A paper flyer hangs on a pole in New Hampshire advertising a “Young Americans for Hillary” party. It features a black-and-white photo of a young, Bohemian Hillary, and promises to include, in addition to “political discussion” and “a good time,” pizza, “Hillary swag,” and “young people.” Two days before the event, none of the RSVP reminders were torn from the flyer; a clear sign that just because Team Hillary may be ready for her coronation, not everybody else is.
Hillary Clinton’s likeability problem is no secret. Her favorability among Americans has been sliding since 2012; and a Gallup poll released last week shows her net favorability at its lowest since December 2007. Among non-leaning independent voters, for example, she lost 8 percent favorability in the last few months alone. These anemic numbers should be especially troubling to Hillary, since during her post-First Lady years, she has held numerous positions of high public visibility; including United States Senator, presidential candidate, Secretary of State, and global philanthropist. As such, by now she should have been able to solidify her public appeal as a respected “leader.” Instead, the more people find out about her and her style of “leadership,” the less they like it.
Still, her campaign handlers apparently believe a bounce back in the favorability polls is only a matter of Hillary letting her guard down, and sharing more about herself that makes her “relatable” to voters. However, after years of intentionally isolating herself from the media and the public, and carefully avoiding exhibiting any hint of a “normal” life, it is doubtful Hillary has the ability to relate to anyone outside the Washington Beltway and beyond well-defined Democratic interest groups that would vote for an automaton so long as it sported a “Democrat” label.
Therein lies Hillary’s real problem – she is no Bill Clinton.
Bill inherently understood how to relate to people, especially young people and independent voters turned-off by the stuffy, pretentious nature of Washington politicians. He was charismatic with a capital “C.” He also knew how to work the media, and used his media savvy to carry his charisma across the nation to connect with voters. He was the president who told jokes, loved fast food, and went on the Arsenio Hall show to play “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone. He was a guy to whom voters could genuinely relate. Poor, blue-blood George H.W. Bush never knew what hit him in the 1992 campaign.
It is impossible to imagine Hillary having a “lip sync battle” with “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, when even a five second “selfie” video of her “chilling in Cedar Rapids” comes off as painfully contrived and phony. The fact is, charisma cannot be faked; it cannot be turned on and off at will. You have it or you don’t. Hillary doesn’t have it. If anything, she has negative charisma.
Where Bill was “cool,” Hillary is cold.
Where Bill was smooth, Hillary is hard-edged.
Where Bill was approachable, Hillary is stand-offish.
Where Bill welcomed the media, Hillary hates the media.
Where Bill thrived among adoring crowds and candid exchanges, Hillary insists on tightly controlled environments with canned responses.
Where Bill was able to present his candidacy as the New Wave versus the Old School (George H.W. Bush), Hillary comes across as Old School; especially when contrasted with the many new faces offered to voters by the GOP (Jeb excluded).
Where Bill appeared to be anti-Establishment, Hillary embodies the Establishment.
These differences between the two Clintons will make all of the difference in this election. Bill won a close election against Bush I in 1992, by keeping the traditional Democratic base and interest groups together while pulling in new, young, swing voters. The coalition of traditional and non-traditional voters was enough to provide him victory. This year, nearly a generation after Bill’s win in 1992, Hillary will still be able to count on the support of the same traditional Democratic interest groups that helped elect her husband, but she will miss the surge of young voters who have grown disillusioned with Obama and with politics in general.
Where Bill won a close race in 1992 fueled largely by his energy and charisma, Hillary will likely lose a close race in 2016 because she has no charisma and lacks vitality. That is, of course, unless the Republican field, which now constitutes an exciting and diverse group of candidates, repeats the self-immolation it inflicted on itself in 2012; or if the GOP decides to nominate another establishment candidate to battle Hillary in the fall. That will level the playing field for Hillary considerably.