Bill Clinton was once called “the comeback kid” for his ability to reverse his political fortunes. But it is Hillary Clinton who has really mastered the art of political timing and turning perceived negatives into advantages. The last two weeks have been a model for how to change perceptions.
Hillary has been hammered by distractions from Benghazi to emails. Doubts surface, articles are written, the Bern spikes, calls for Joe Biden to enter the race increase; and Hillary and her team stay poised. They watch the trends of polling data, not the headlines generated by pundits who have little understanding of politics. And in the span of two weeks, Hillary strikes back.
Her campaign exposed Republican lies regarding Benghazi. She did a fantastic job in the first debate. Vice President Biden decided not to run. Democrats didn’t simply defend her on the eve of her Benghazi testimony—in which she remained poised for 10 hours of ridiculousness—but they went on the offensive, leaving Republicans to flail in the spotlight.
The tides have turned to the point that Rep. Trey Gwody, chair of the Benghazi Committee, publicly complained he was tired of his integrity being attacked. This on the heals of him manufacturing evidence and leaking it to the press. He also wasn’t helped by the admission of former would-be Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy that the Benghazi hearings were successful because they were designed to bring Hillary’s poll numbers down.
The Clinton campaign has mastered the art of jiu jitsu politics—using negative energy from opponents and turning it right back onto them. It’s why Republicans would be wise to drop the whole issue going forward; it ain’t working for them.
Hillary and her team have learned from the past. The biggest threat they face is the unknown impact of Bernie Sanders and his enthusiastic supporters. Hillary has the traditional voters of the Democratic Party, but it’s an open secret that if masses of people who are eligible to vote, but never have, turn out, they could overwhelm the traditional dynamic.
In the 2008 primary, Hillary got beat by enthusiastic Barack Obama supporters who showed up at caucus meetings. Hillary won Texas primary, for instance, but the delegate vote was even because Obama won the Democratic caucuses. Obama won the caucus in Iowa, lost the primary in New Hampshire—but prevailed because of the math of the rest of the nation. Clinton won California, but Obama won the delegate count nationally.
The Clinton campaign learned from that experience and is motivating the mass of women supporters who felt cheated last time. They had an experienced, qualified woman candidate who lost to a relatively inexperienced African-American man. The takeaway from that experience was that the system is more misogynist than racist.
One might say gender doesn’t matter, but it does in this election. It matters greatly because we have never had a woman President. In an equally qualified race, Hillary deserves the job for that reason. And this time around, she has no problem articulating that very point.
For her to lose, someone on the Democratic side must bring her down. Bernie Sanders won’t do it. Martin O’Malley isn’t credible enough to do it. And who are Lincoln Chaffee and Jim Webb? Biden’s recent exit from the race was advantageous, because he would have had the credibility to attack Clinton. I believe one reason he did not run is that he didn’t want the job if that was the only way he could get it.
As a of Biden supporter in 1988 and 2008, he once told me he would never want the job if he had to do things that were against his moral code. He is a deeply religious man. In this race there is no other path to victory for him unless he was able to take Hillary down. How unseemly. No office is worth the price of your soul, and Biden made the right decision as a result. Even his fallen son, Beau, would be particularly proud of the reason he decided not to run for President.
So the path is now clear for Madam President. A few weeks ago she couldn’t win; now she is unstoppable. This too will change over the course of the long campaign. But if Hillary Clinton has shown one trait to be admired, it is her resilience in the face of adversity.
Our next President has a long distinguished record of public service. Her accomplishments and successes, however, also bring along a hardcore group of haters who will stop at nothing to diminish the nature of her service. One never becomes a statesperson while they are in the arena; they only truly become admired once they leave the stage. President Bill Clinton can attest to that fact—even George W. Bush’s numbers have gone up since he left office, despite the disaster that was his administration.
Our current President has also been much maligned during his time in office. But as his term comes to an end, his accomplishments—ending two wars, turning around the economy, establishing a national healthcare system and eliminating America’s greatest enemy since Adolf Hitler—are starting to be recognized by his critics. Hillary Clinton is the new target.
The die is cast and the support Hillary has nationally runs deep within the Democratic Party. Despite all of the enthusiastic support for Sanders, her national poll numbers are still above his in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton lost in 2008, but she will not make the mistakes of the past. She understands it is a marathon, not a sprint, and her team is ready, willing and able to take on any challenge. They will not be deterred or surprised this time.
One caveat: Things can change very quickly in politics, as Hillary can attest. But if luck truly is where preparation meets opportunity; we will have a woman President in 2016—and her name will be Hillary Clinton.
Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley.