In the last sanctioned Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton made a candid admission. “I’m not a natural politician” the former Secretary of State stated bluntly. The moment was as humanizing as it was accurate.
In 2008, as Barack Obama rose in popularity against a heavily favored Clinton, the then Senator found herself unable to cope, and resorted to racist and scurrilous campaign tactics. When the race got tight, Clinton went negative against “hope and and change,” and Clinton choked.
And now, we’re seeing it happen all over again.
Following a devastating loss in Michigan, a race she was heavily favored in, Hillary Clinton has fallen into her old habits—leveling attacks at her opponent, Bernie Sanders, that even her apparent allies call suspicious or interesting. Additionally, the former Secretary has made a series of bizarre remarks: from barking like a dog to calling Nancy and Ronald Reagan champions in the fight against AIDS.
So what is the problem? Why, whenever a race gets tough, does Clinton seem to shoot herself in the foot? Why can’t she handle the pressure? The simple answer is that her judgment is poor.
For all the preparation Hillary Clinton went through prior to this primary, she has found herself battling her past. She didn’t realize after the Occupy Movement and the 2012 election that saw Mitt Romney lose for his out-of-touch rhetoric, that tacking right against an economic populist progressive would backfire. She didn’t realize that her paid Wall Street speeches or her past donations from the Koch Brothers would be a problem in 2016. She didn’t recognize that her private in-home email server over which she conducted business as Secretary of State would become an issue. During that same period, she didn’t pick up on the fact that her arms dealing through the Clinton Foundation would come off as a conflict of interest. She saw nothing wrong with accepting millions from lobbyists including those from the fossil fuel industry. And while we’re discussing fossil fuels, she didn’t predict that supporting fracking would hurt her in presidential race where climate change is a central issue. In 2008, she didn’t see anything wrong with attacking Obama’s appeal to white voters, or making the sorts of race baiting remarks she made. She didn’t realize that the Iraq War was a mistake at the time. She didn’t have the foresight (let alone the conscience) to support same-sex marriage until 2013. And, of course, now she didn’t see anything wrong with praising the Reagan Administration for its shameful record on AIDS.
Never has anyone in the history American politics, besides maybe former New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, squandered so much advantage as Clinton had going into the primary—and I’m not just referring to the insurmountable lead over her opponent, Bernie Sanders, she had at the beginning of the race. I’m talking about the good will of young voters she enjoyed as Secretary of State, the fact that the DNC is in her pocket, and her vast political network with its massive media influence.
Even if she wins big today, her margins will be slimmer than they should have been considering where she started from. The damage has been done, regardless of whether or not she staggers on to the general election.