Campaigns are complicated things. No one gets every piece of them right. Some candidates are great at big rallies. Some are good only at small events. Some are terrific TV communicators but bad on the stump. Some delegate well, and others don’t. Some never waver from a message, while others can’t seem to find one with a 10-foot pole. It’s a high-wire balancing act every day with tens of millions of people watching.
— Trump is making a real mess of his campaign, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, Jul.10
Okay, I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that 10-foot poll line two weeks ago, which is why I remembered it today. It was no mystery which two candidates Cillizza had in mind in drawing that contrast in that sentence.
Throughout Clinton’s campaign pundits and ordinary voters alike have wondered what exactly her justification is for running for president. But I am not among them. Her justification, from its outset, has been that she’s a woman and that this particular glass ceiling must be broken, now, and by her. That was, and remains, it.
Thus her cringe-inducing statement at that debate last winter that she doesn’t understand why people think she’s a member of the establishment. After all, she’s running to become the first woman president.
And thus the focus of her speech on the night of the California primary, which it turns out troubled a number of her advisors as much as it did me. Which is, a lot.
Amy Chozick has an article in this morning’s NYT titled “Hillary Clinton’s Team Seeks a Balance: Celebrating Women Without Alienating Men” that begins:
PHILADELPHIA — When Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination last month, her campaign put together a video that framed Mrs. Clinton’s victory as a giant leap in the women’s movement. Scenes of suffragists, Gloria Steinem and little girls in their mother’s arms flashed on the screen.
The footage brought some of Mrs. Clinton’s advisers to tears, but others asked a practical, and delicate, question: What might men be thinking?
Good question. But I’ll amend it: What were women, as well as men, thinking? The ones who think this election is really, or at least mostly, about the economic and political-power issues that Bernie Sanders has built his campaign around. That Elizabeth Warren (no less a female than is Clinton) has built her public career around. That Donald Trump has so fraudulently coopted, these days interspersing his claim to fight the economically and politically powerful on behalf of working class whites with his actual fiscal and regulatory policies written—literally—at the Heritage Foundation.**
Trump is now openly seeking donations on behalf of a superPAC operated by and for some of the most fiscal and regulatory regressive billionaires and multimillionaires in the world.
Yet he’s apparently winning among white working class men who aren’t all that enthused about Building a Wall, Barring Muslims From Entering This Country, and, now—again, literally; unabashedly—turning this country into a fascist state because five police officers in Dallas were murdered by a mentally disturbed man after he lured them with a 911 phone call.
Yet the Clinton campaign, according to Chozick’s detailed article, now debating “how much her nomination this week should be focused on women.” Chozick writes:
Some advisers believe that overemphasizing Mrs. Clinton’s historic achievement as the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination could backfire, driving away men who favor her Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, and alienating younger women who are less motivated by gender. The result is what Democrats describe as a cautious mix, attaching the women’s movement to issues like the economy and health care. …
“This has been a long, drawn-out debate,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist who worked for Mrs. Clinton in 2008 and has been involved in discussions with her 2016 campaign about women’s outreach.
The debate inside the campaign about the focus on women during the convention was described by a person involved in the planning who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The discussions date to the start of the campaign, when some advisers suggested she choose Seneca Falls, N.Y., the birthplace of the modern women’s movement, to hold her kickoff rally.
Others questioned whether she should visit the town at all. In the end, she started her campaign in New York City, and in April, her daughter organized a “Women for Hillary” event in Seneca Falls in her mother’s place.
A campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, did not respond to questions on Sunday about the internal discussions, other than to say, “It will not be lost on anyone that she is a woman.”
So here’s something Clinton should understand: Every time she suggests that the purpose of her campaign is to make history as the first woman to become president she also suggests that she truly doesn’t get this election—that she doesn’t understand the economic populism of this moment. That is true even though some of the traditional women’s policy issues she will talk about also are very much economic ones.
Brian Fallon is not, I’ll just say, a favorite among Clinton spokespeople, and I know that other fervent Sandinistas shared that sentiment over the last year. But I think I can speak for all Sandinistas—Sanders Bros and Sanders Sisses alike—in supporting his advice to the candidate: “It will not be lost on anyone that she is a woman.”
And if she really thinks we’re stronger together she should let that speak for itself. It will not be lost on anyone that she is a woman.
A huge problem for Clinton and her campaign has been that its unremitting focus on things everyone already knows, and its failure to educate the public about things most or at least many people don’t know about Trump’s actions. Their specifics. His very modus operandi. And, for heaven’s sake, his fiscal and regulatory policy proposals.
Also from the Chozick article:*
She drives me crazy with this woman thing,” Misty Leach, 43, a high school teacher who voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary, said of Mrs. Clinton. “‘I’m going to be the first woman president’ to me just feels like she’s entitled.
To me it just feels like she wants to be sure no one misses that she thinks this is what is most on most people’s minds. Excuse me, on most women’s minds.
Clinton should think back to her husband’s War Room’s famous mantra: It’s the economy, stupid. This time the campaign’s internal mantra should be: It’s the economic and political power, stupid.
I think Trump made a serious mistake last week in “pivoting” from a (faux) anti-establishment-economic-and-political-power theme to a (bizarre) law-and-order one, which I found bizarre. (I didn’t watch any of that convention, but have more than enough about what transpired.) In Clinton’s case, the opposite is necessary: She needs to pivot away from her campaign’s raison d’être, and toward the raison that matters.
*The quote and comment about it that follow were added on 7/26 at 1:44 p.m.
**Paragraph rewritten to make sense, 7/26 at 8:10 p.m.