The other day, my newsletter featured commentary on a November 11 article in the Wall Street Journal by former Clinton strategist Mark Penn and Andrew Stein that predicted Hillary Clinton would not only run for President again in 2020 but would be the Democratic nominee. As April Fool’s Day is four-and-a-half months away, they apparently weren’t joking.
Pollster Frank Luntz decided to test their theory by putting together a focus group of New Hampshire independent voters –- half leaning left, half leaning right --- for Laura Ingraham’s Tuesday night FOX News show. (In New Hampshire, independent voters are allowed to vote in the Democratic primary.) Luntz characterized them as the most educated and informed voters in the state. When he asked them, “How many of you want Hillary Clinton to run for President in 2020?,” there was a brief pause, no hands went up, and laughter ensued. I have to admit, it was pretty amusing.
“Been there, done that,” one woman said. “Hillary’s day is done.” She went on to characterize Hillary as the most qualified candidate ever to run (we could debate that) but the least electable (we might agree on that). She’s just not likable enough, the woman said, to get people to vote for her. Later on, this same woman said the Democrats needed someone with “some charisma and some pizazz, like the gentleman from Texas [a reference to Beto O’Rourke]. He seems to maybe be able to ignite the Party again, which was something that President Obama did.”
“We already had a Clinton in there; we don’t need another Clinton in there,” said another woman. “We need somebody that’s gonna [be a] change.”
“That’s in the past,” said another woman. The Democrats “have to find some other candidates who can win the election.”
A man said it would be “a waste” if she ran again. From another man: “The third time’s not gonna be a charm for her. She’s been rejected.”
From another woman: “You can’t run [simply] because you’re female, or black, or whatever. She’s...old. Old news, I should say. Not old.” (She laughed, a bit uncomfortably, perhaps because she knew they were all thinking Hillary is pretty old.)
“And –- she gave us Donald Trump,” said another man, with a chuckle. “That should be enough.”
They briefly debated whether or not she was the only person who could have lost to Donald Trump. One woman said that anyone might have lost to him because “he said what a lot of people wanted to hear, unfortunately.”
Luntz came away from his little experiment thinking that if Hillary is seriously thinking about running again, what she should do is “write another book, go do more speeches. She’ll be embarrassed if she does it.”
He said that if he were close to her, as Mark Penn is, he would simply tell her, “No. You had a shot. You had a good shot, but the time is passed.”
Luntz reported that when asked to predict someone who could beat Trump, they picked Joe Biden. Never mind that he’s about Hillary's age; one woman did suggest that he choose a younger running mate who can “go hand in hand with him.” This group did seem to be having a hard time coming up with names of prospective candidates, and Luntz found it interesting that they were coming up with names of people who had been around a long time but at the same time were rejecting Hillary. Also, he saw that even these relatively informed voters “are now choosing people now not based on policy but based on personality. And that’s changed.”
As Luntz explained it, Donald Trump has a strong personality, which they normally would like in a candidate, but Trump’s doesn’t go over with this group because they don’t perceive him as fighting for THEM, but as fighting his own battles. I would add that this is something Trump might want to think about before tweeting.
To add to the fun, the Frank Luntz segment was followed by an interview by none other than Mark Penn, along with former Clinton pollster Doug Schoen. Penn was not one bit fazed by this group of New Hampshire voters, saying that nationwide, Hillary still has a 75 percent favorable rating (77 percent according to Gallup) among the Democratic base. He doesn’t know for sure that she will run but asks, will she seek the opportunity to undo the wrongs (as she sees them) that occurred last time? He points out that she’s been out there on the stump in Florida, close to her base. He also notes that her possible opponents “made fools of themselves” at the Kavanaugh hearings –- and I would second that, while keeping in mind that people have short memories. “No one has emerged as a strong candidate on the Democratic field,” Penn says.
Interestingly, Penn claims that, nationwide, Clinton and Trump have about the same stats: about 40 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable. “I say it’s a real possibility that she will run,” he says, “and if she does, she will have an opportunity to have a second chance at defeating Donald Trump.”
Schoen generally agrees with Penn, saying that she will run “if she can run,” and (he knows her well) that she will say whatever she needs to say to win. But he hasn’t yet seen the introspection that one would like to see in a losing candidate; she thought she used the right approach and it didn’t make any difference, so she blames the electorate. I would add that if she blames them, it’s because she still thinks the great unwashed masses don’t know what’s good for them and need her leadership whether they want her or not. That might have a little something to do with her “likability” negatives.
If Schoen had to pick between Biden and Hillary, he would pick Biden, “but there will be a fresh face, ‘cause the Democrats always want somebody new and different. Mark my words.” This is how we got stuck with Barack Obama --- the new, young face with the dazzling smile. That's what they see in "Beto." What is it about Democrats that makes them worship such shallow attributes?
Surprisingly, at least to me, a few factors didn’t come up at all, either in the focus group or any discussion of the results. Hillary’s age was there as an undercurrent, of course, but no one mentioned the possibility of serious health problems –- related to age or not –- or simply her lack of physical energy. We know she wouldn't be honest about this; since when is she honest about anything except her desire to be President? Trump has the stamina of a bull, while Hillary falls easily and must walk carefully. Without pillows to prop her up (which she demands at every appearance), she sinks into a chair like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Who knows how she’ll be doing in another year or so? I would think that if there is any reason she might decide not to run, this is it. Perhaps that’s what Schoen meant by the cryptic phrase, “if she can run.”
The other major factor was her lack of believability and “no rules for me” attitude. We’ve learned a lot more since the 2016 election about how she was protected by loyalists in the DOJ and FBI, and we know she got away with some illegal things regarding classified material (not to mention some unfair things regarding Bernie Sanders). Maybe I’m too hopeful, but I’d like to think that only her hard-core Democratic base would feel comfortable voting for someone who's done things that would send anybody else to jail. Can't the Democrats manage to nominate someone who deserves the Oval Office more than a jail cell?