December 17, 2007
Hillary AgonistesBy Thomas Lifson
Has Hillary Clinton's candidacy for the Democrats' nomination gone from "inevitable" to "doomed" in the space of a few weeks? Momentum always is a precious factor as the compressed primary season looms, with undecideds making up their minds and contributors wanting to back the likely winner
But special circumstances surround the junior senator from New York. For years she has exercised what seem like special powers, as well-entrenched Clinton allies in the press and a political machine unmatched in resources and ruthlessness served to support her version of the narrative in major conflicts with her enemies. Generous use of victim status also has always been a winner for her in then past.
Think of the treatment poor Rick Lazio received when he "violated her space" during a debate in her run for the Senate. I have never, before or since, heard of another candidate using the concept of personal space to target and demonize an opponent. But with Hillary's superpowers, such narratives could be made to stick, at least among those members of the voting public who don't expose themselves to much beyond the New York Times/CBS/NBC/ABC/CNN media bubble.
But the old tactics she has used with success no longer work against Barack Obama. Hillary's superpowers have met their version of kryptonite.
Obama is a seemingly nice guy, inspiring to some with his rhetoric of change and hope. And of course he is black. She can't really out-victim him. To switch metaphors, his victim card is a King, while hers is only a Queen. And being a sympathetic character to many, attacks on him, such as the accusation of little Barry being a kindergartener consumed with ambition to be president, have a way of backfiring on her.
It doesn't help at all that she is not at her best when straying from well-crafted talking points, as demonstrated by her inability to give a straight answer on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants under repeated debate questioning. She is simply not very experienced at responding to cross examination from the media or opponents. Hers has been a regal approach, and it worked until very recently.
Obama, in contrast, can be quick and even funny on occasion, as with his Des Moines debate wisecrack about hoping she will be his advisor. Her established repertoire of soundbites and poses has been falling flat, but she does not seem to come up with any new winners so far. The cackle gambit, introduced on Meet the Press, and then revived when baiting the intended trap for Obama in Des Moines with the question about ex-Clinton advisors on his team, has been a disaster.
Hillary is well known to have run what Dick Morris called the White House Secret Police, and she is no stranger to getting even with people who get in her way. She and Bill, when they commanded the resources of the presidency, could be ruthless with onetime allies who crossed them. Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey stand as exemplars of the dangers of crossing the Clintons.
If Hillary looks inevitable, it can be assumed by the people who matter that once again she will enforce some discipline on deserters and betrayers with the majesty of the nation's highest office powering her retaliation. But as soon as the bubble of inevitability bursts and highly placed people start peeling away, the risk of punishment starts crashing.
The first to publicly defect were some prominent big donors in Hollywood, past supporters who started giving money to Obama. Donors have by far the most freedom of maneuver among those who enjoy some sort of membership in the "team" that comprises a campaign. Last February, billionaire Hollywood mogul David Geffen announced he was supporting Obama and took shots at Hillary. His survival unscathed opened the gates through which many others, most notably Oprah, have passed.
Bill Clinton acknowledged Friday night on PBS's Charlie Rose Show that Hillary could lose Iowa. That could cascade into a defeat in New Hampshire, and tremendous momentum downward for her. It was clearly an awkward admission, and as the New York Times reported,
There is reported to be an air of desperation, conflict , even chaos in the Hillary campaign so it may be difficult to regain the offensive.
Sabotage by Bill?
Is it possible that Bill Clinton secretly or unconsciously is sabotaging Hillary's campaign? It cannot be ruled out. Nobody else has access to the private thoughts of the man, but I have to wonder how many times between 1992 and 2000 he trumped her in a policy or other dispue with the argument that he is the president and she is not. For every single time he used that line, he can expect to have it used against him in a Hillary presidency. Considering the number of reasons she has to be upset with him, the prospect of vengeance from the most powerful woman in the world must be at least slightly unsettling.
But any political machine that can survive the blue dress revelations and eventually vanquish its enemies should not be dismissed lightly. This is a couple that has successfully pooled its resources for decades, and which remains focused on victory.
Dick Morris has taken great delight in repeating his oft-stated position that as people get to know Hillary better, they don't like her. But her self-esteem is not tied up in the opinions others have of her the way her husband's is. The former first lady has never struck me as someone given to self-doubt or deep introspection, but her face increasingly does betray the serious toll stress has taken on her.
Hillary Clinton is no quitter. She has demonstrated again and again that she can tough out hard times and fight back against her enemies. I don't see her quitting any time soon, and I expect she will press on, and via her remaining surrogates and operatives, will search for the magic formula to derail Obama. She might even get lucky and see Obama seriously stumble. He is far from tested and battle-hardened the way she is.
I expect her to fight hard with every resource at her command. She would only quit when there is no hope at all of a rebound, and that could conceivably mean a struggle extending to the floor of the Democratic National Convention.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.