In November 2007 Time magazine had Hillary Clinton on the cover, proclaiming that she was the certain Democratic nominee. She had the money, the endorsements, and it was her time. Less than two months later Barack Obama surprised her with a win in Iowa and after a long hard fought primary he was destined to become the 44th President.
Fast forward eight years. Again, Hillary appears to be riding high in 2015. Most potential Democratic candidates chose not to take on the Clinton machine – Obama had been a fluke, they reasoned, a product of American unease after the Iraq war. Only the obscure New England Social Democrat Bernie Sanders and bland Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley joined the race. Sanders at 74 was seen as undertaking a quixotic journey, making a statement with a late career Presidential run with no chance of success. O’Malley was positioning himself for the future. It was Hillary’s to lose.
She hasn’t lost yet, and this time probably won’t. Despite Sanders’ Michigan shock, the math and the map seem to favor Hillary. Yet Democrats are uneasy; Hillary is not a strong candidate.
Hillary Clinton is seen as honest and trustworthy by only 37% of the population. People are tired of her and the Clintons; it’s been 27 years since they entered the realm of Presidential politics. For that entire time she’s been hammered by the Republicans, usually unfairly, but often effectively.
Right or wrong, she’s associated with Wall Street. She was a New York Senator, after all, and any New York Senator, including presumptive Senate Democrat leader Charles Schumer, has to support Wall Street to some extent. But Bill Clinton’s 1990s economy was built on a Wall Street bubble, and while she waxes poetic about how great things were during his term, most people realize that the economy was built on a house of cards, and we’re still recovering.
Moreover, even in the 1990s there were rumblings of discontent over NAFTA, globalization, and the shifting of wealth away from the working class to a smaller elite, what Sanders might call an oligarchy. The same kind of populist Angst and anger over an economy that seems to be crunching the middle class that propels Trump also powers support for Sanders.
As Hillary said herself in this week’s debate, she’s not a natural politician. To be blunt, she wouldn’t be where she is if her husband had not been President of the United States. I’ve talked with more than one young female who thinks that alone makes her an inappropriate choice to be the first woman President. But more to the point: she is more a policy wonk than a candidate. She doesn’t have the ability her husband had to connect and inspire.
That doesn’t mean she’ll lose – Richard Nixon was never an inspirational figure, but he won. Yet it should give the Democrats reason to worry. The current discord among the GOP does give Clinton supporters hope – Hillary should be able to defeat Donald Trump, and a divided Republican party is likely to emerge in any event. But Sanders has shown that she still has the weaknesses that doomed her 2008 candidacy. It is becoming painfully obvious that both the Democrats and the Republicans need to retool their message. As it stands in March 2016 there is unease in both parties, worried that their Presidential nominee, whoever they will be, may not be what is needed this time around.