When watching coverage of the Democrats’ New York presidential Primary Debate in March, 1992, I had the sense that Bill Clinton* would win his party’s nomination. He simply looked like more of leader than did his two then-opponents, Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown.
I had once maintained that his wife could never win the Democratic presidential nomination. While she had her husband’s last name, a name as beloved among Democrats as it is hated among Republicans, she lacked his presence, his charisma. Whereas he comes across as warm and caring, a man who cares about your problems, she comes across as cold and calculating, someone most interested in furthering her own ambition.
Watching the campaign so far, I have, however, changed my mind. A feeling similar to the one which came upon me all of a sudden in March of 1992 has been growing on me for some time. It’s not so much that Hillary appears any more presidential than she did in the past. It’s just that she’s been the weakness (and/or ineptness) of her opponents makes her look, by contrast, more like a leader.
She must be laughing when conservative bloggers (& pundits), some of them her harshest critics, delight in lampooning her two strongest opponents, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Those two Democrats do seem to get more flak than she does.
Hillary has benefited from the focus on these hapless men. Obama’s gaffes have made him appear less like a leader with each passing day. At the same time, Edwards’ opportunism, tapering his political views to fit those of the angry leftists who play a key role in his party’s nomination process, makes people see him as someone who would do anything to get elected (a charge leveled against her).
I wonder how she would do if she had a serious opponent. I mean, a lot of Democrats initially flocked to Senator Obama’s campaign largely because they saw his charisma as an antidote to her less-than-inspiring demeanor. Had he been able to combine that charisma with substance, he would likely be giving his Senate colleague a run for the money.
In contrast to her opponents, she appears level-headed and sensible. Combine that with her intelligence, discipline and determination** and you have a formidable candidate.
Whether the Norma Hsu scandal will put a dent in her standing among Democrats remains to be seen. Dean Barnett may be on to something when he writes that, “When it comes time to raise campaign funds, the Clintons employ grifters like Terry McAuliffe and Harold Ickes. When they get caught breaking the law, no one cares.” He may well be right.
I do think this scandal (combined with her decision to rely on Sandy Berger as a key foreign policy advisor even after he plead guilty to “charges of taking classified material without authorization“) will certainly help cement her negatives, but without a credible alternative, the episodes will likely not prevent her from steamrollering her way to the Democratic nomination.
Whether she will be able to build on the momentum she will no doubt gain should she (as I expect) secure her party’s nomination in early February depends how she holds up when the focus is on her. Will these scandals matter more to the independent voters she’ll need to sway in order to win in the fall? Or will she benefit from a divided Republican Party?
That remains to be seen, but for now, Hillary Clinton should be feeling quite fortunate for the opponents she attracted. Had a charismatic Democrat stepped forward who could provide evidence of leadership while rallying his party’s base, I daresay we’d be seeing a much different race for he Democratic nomination, not one where a former First Lady maintains a double-digit lead over her rivals.
*Yup, that’s the place where he made his infamous, “I didn’t inhale” comment.
**I am somewhat indebted to blogger Jonathan Adler for this expression. He wrote that Mrs. Clinton is “intelligent, savvy, disciplined, and determined; by far the most impressive candidate in the Democratic field” (H/t: Instapundit). I would only add that given this Democratic field, it isn’t too hard to become the most impressive.