A Word About the Democrats

Much of my time on this blog is spent talking about the Republican race for the White House and general geopolitical maneuvering. Frankly, these are the things that interest me and that I can comment about with a degree of insight. To be completely honest, the race for the Democrat nomination isn’t really that compelling. Hillary’s nomination boils down to her brand outrunning her past long enough to clinch enough delegates. At the moment that seems likely, but, let’s have a talk about what’s going on on the left.

HILLARY’S SERVERS AND WHAT REALLY MATTERS

Hillary Clinton likely violated policies by having a private, homebrew, email server. Was that a violation of Federal Law? The FBI/DOJ will tell us in a few months. The most likely outcome was that there was a violation of existing policies, but not a violation of the law (Hillary would have had to have had knowledge that she was actually sharing classified information, and I’ll explain why she wasn’t in a moment).

The issue for Mrs. Clinton likely is not the inner-workings of her home network. Certainly it’s bad optics, but there are fall guys lining up from technicians to staffers who will take the blame for whatever issues are found with Mrs. Clinton’s servers. The fact that the servers were wiped sounds a lot like Watergate, but, unlike Watergate, missing sections of tape are something Nixon could understand. That gets to my point: Mrs. Clinton’s biggest downfall on the server issue is that it belies a failure in her brand: she is not Barack Obama.

What do I mean by that? In 2008, perhaps because of his youth, but more likely because of excellent campaign management, Obama looked like a “techie.” That is, Obama had the appearance of someone who would be able to talk about IP addresses, darknet, masking, VPNs, and proxies. People believed, rightly or wrongly, that Obama could address Chinese hacking and securing America’s data with a degree of understanding. This, generally, did not hold up when the government has been the subject of some of the largest hacks in history, but I don’t think that people were expecting Obama to be crawling around the IRS’ server room looking for problems.

That said, Hillary Clinton’s digital marketing and strategies that she is employing in her 2016 campaign attempt to make Clinton look savvy on technology. The widely-publicized memetic “Hillary on her Blackberry” when she was Secretary of State is retrospectively humorous given the fact that Mrs. Clinton claims to know nothing about her email server and issues regarding hosting top secret information privately.

So, which is it? Is Hillary Clinton tech savvy (and thereby very likely complicit in the destruction of records) or does she have no idea what’s going on? The balance between criminality and incompetence is not something that the American people want to choose between in their leaders.

CLINTON’S TERRIBLE MISMANAGEMENT OF “SERVERGATE”

Regardless of Clinton’s knowledge, or lack thereof, about her private servers, her joking, shrug-it-off, response to a Federal investigation has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. As you remember, Clinton joked that she liked the app Snapchat because sent messages are automatically deleted. She doubled-down on this when asked by reporters about the server being wiped by asking “what with a cloth or something?” We have to imagine that these were both meant as jokes but they are so tone-deaf that they may represent a failure in the Clinton camp to understand that Mrs. Clinton’s trustworthiness numbers are falling.

FAVORABILITY AND PRESUMPTION

Ask Hillary Clinton from 2008 about what poll numbers mean a year and three months out from the election and she will tell you that they mean absolutely nothing. The fact that Mrs. Clinton sits atop the race for the Democrat nomination is simply because there is no viable alternative. When Bernie Sanders, an independent, can get about one-in-four or one-in-five voters (more in New Hampshire), that means that there is a big problem in the campaign. Sure, Senator Sanders is touching on the “Occupy Wall Street” vein of progressive populism, but, in the same way that Ron Paul exposed the right to libertarianism, Sanders’ actual political power is stretching beyond his personal political ability.

The numbers that matter now for Mrs. Clinton are “favorability” and “trustworthiness.” The latter is obvious. With regard to “favorability,” though, the problems in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign run deep. The most recent CNN/ORC Poll shows Mrs. Clinton having a 55% unfavorable rating among likely voters. Hillary Clinton, because she has been a prominent political figure for decades, has favorability ratings that go back into the 1990s. There has never been another time when Mrs. Clinton’s unfavorable number has been 55% (the closest was 53% in March of 2001).

Put that in perspective. The last time Hillary Clinton ran for President in 2007-2008, most people did not have an unfavorable view of the former First Lady-turned Senator. Today, that number has shifted 10% against Mrs. Clinton. The other concern from that poll is that the number has been progressively rising over the course of Mrs. Clinton’s 2015-2016 campaign. This bodes very poorly for Mrs. Clinton and will very likely be exacerbated by the fact that her unfavorability will be the subject of many news stories and broadcasts. It is baffling how her team has allowed the situation to deteriorate to such a degree without pushing major stopgap measures to triage the collapse.

SMART MONEY SAYS HILLARY, BUT SMART MONEY ALSO SAID JEB

Jeb Bush may still be the Republican nominee. He has a lot of money and a lot of name recognition, but if he can be thoroughly trounced by the likes of Donald Trump for months on end, Jeb’s legitimacy as a contender is tanking. This isn’t to say Trump is a flash in the pan (he’s actually surpassing most everyone’s expectations and reaching a lot of disaffected voters), but a true statesman would likely have had no trouble defusing the Trump campaign before it began. The same problem, though with different timing and players is besetting the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Let’s be fair: Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, should be the Democrat nominee for President. She has the Day-One name recognition, the fundraising potential, and some of the best campaign staff on the planet. So then why are people looking elsewhere?

First, it could be fatigue. Hillary’s scandal prone campaign and general disdain for any investigative press makes branding difficult. Hillary is not the “everywoman” or someone that I can imagine any sane person wanting to have a beer with (maybe that’s just my editorializing). She was smart to go with “America’s Grandmother” and joke about the fact that no one has to worry about her going gray because she’s already dying her hair. Yes, it makes her seem old, but it also made her relate-able.

The problem is, with scandals and an aloofness to the press that puts President Obama to shame, Democrats are reluctantly supporting Hillary rather than flocking to the Clinton banner.

THE POWER OF THE VICE PRESIDENT

If I were betting money, I would wager that Vice President Biden gets in the race to be the Democrat nominee for President. What hand trumps Senator-Secretary of State? Senator-Vice President.

Like him or not, Joe Biden is perceived as an honest politician. He’s a sympathetic national figure in light of the death of his son, Beau, and the tragedies that have befallen him, personally. Without intending to sound cynical, Americans like a comeback story. Right now, the Vice President is seen favorably by Americans. He would ride into the Democrat primary without the baggage of scandal. The only problem is that he is woven into the fabric of the Obama Administration. While that may present challenges in the general election, Obama is viewed very favorably among Democrats.

If the average, or even news-savvy, voter was asked about the biggest foreign policy issue while Hillary was Secretary of State, the majority would bring up the mismanagement of the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans during the terrorist attacks of September 11-12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. Pressed for another foreign policy note, we could look to the “reset” button with Russia.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters will be quick to argue that Benghazi is blown out of proportion and that Hillary had a hand in the early stages of the Iran Deal. However, when Hillary Clinton uttered the words “at this point, what difference does it make?” with regard to her role in the Benghazi attacks, she assured that it was going to be a campaign issue.

Regarding her role in the Iran Deal, she can run on that up until the Vice President enters the race. At that point, the current figure in the Administration trumps the figure who’s been out of the game for years.

WHAT IF BIDEN DOESN’T RUN?

Continuing in the same vein in foreign policy, if Biden chooses not to run, I would venture out on a limb to say that Secretary of State John Kerry will. that might catch some people off-guard. Putting politics aside for a moment, John Kerry has had a good year. The Iran Deal and the opening of Cuba are roundly approved on the left. When the President’s likely veto of the effort to stop the Iran Deal is sustained, Kerry will have gained a considerable amount of momentum to make a conceivable run for the White House.

Put it in perspective (imagine you are a Democrat primary voter): Kerry was instrumental in the Iran Deal, Hillary has baggage over Benghazi; Kerry opened up Cuba, Hillary’s “reset” with Russia made no lasting peace; to top it off, Kerry can even claim that he was instrumental in brokering a cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine, Hillary’s foundation helped Russian oligarchs get uranium. If I were a Democrat, and I thought that foreign policy was going to be the major turning point in this election, I would feel far better with Kerry as the nominee than Hillary Clinton.

CONCLUSION

The Democrat primary could heat up in the coming months, but for the moment, I feel that the Democrat base is still looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. Bernie Sanders’ “eat the rich” mantra is not a threat nationally, but the entry of Joe Biden or John Kerry would change the game.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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