This is a curiosity, or maybe not. Think of it this way: Former Secretary of State, United States Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton is not, in her presidential election campaign, running against Donald Trump. She is, instead, running against any number of ideas, some about being a Democrat, some about being a woman, and some about being a Clinton, though I’m uncertain about the order of priority, and the fundamental question of whether we, the People, think she deserves to be president. No other presidential candidate has ever run in this context.
Consider the basic proposition: Hillary Clinton is so widely recognized as a potential president that people hold this fact against her; Bernie Sanders would pretend to disrupt Clinton’s “coronation” as nominee, but it turns out the movement didn’t have a platform.α Now Donald Trump must disrupt Hillary’s (ahem!) coronation as president. And that’s how this election is being fought and judged:
▸ Donald Trump is not qualified to be president.
▸ Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president, but we’ll give the job to Trump unless she satisfies us as no candidate before her ever has.
Republicans, who have spent the last two terms saying and doing everything they can think of to maintain the pretense that Barack Obama’s presidency is somehow illegitimate, are already looking past Mr. Trump’s defeat, considering how to delegitimize Hillary Clinton.
You know, since the quarter-century spent making shit up and screeching high and low, near and far, about how Hillary Clinton is the Devil, just hasn’t worked. Not for William Safire or Howell Raines or Maureen Dowdβ; not for Ken Starr or Karl Rove; not for David Bossie or Stephen Bannon or Darrell Issa or Trey Gowdy. Not a single one of these two-bit divas passed muster. Not a single poison pen or toxic tongue among them could finish the job of destroying Hillary Clinton for being smart as hell and married to a guy who just beat the Republican Party at its own game.
Hillary Clinton could win a decisive victory in November and still enter office without much of a mandate to govern, at least in the eyes of her Republican critics.
While she has succeeded so far in making the election a referendum on her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the strategy carries pitfalls. Should she triumph, it could easily be seen as a rejection of the businessman rather than as an endorsement of her policies.
Republicans are already pointing to that dynamic to make the case that they will be on firm ground resisting her agenda, even if she wins the election handily.
“It is hard to believe that Hillary Clinton would have a mandate should she win the election, because the referendum seems to be on whether Donald Trump is fit to be president, not whether Clinton is the right choice,” said longtime Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
Hillary Clinton is running against herself; the judges are making up the rules on the fly; Republicans are ready to play their part come that first Wednesday after the first Monday in November―rather, they won’t make it through Election Night without previewing the Litany of the Screech.
α The question of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s platform is nearly irrelevant. While Mr. O’Malley is a fine public servant and formidable politician, Hillary Clinton was the clear favorite among what we describe this cycle as “establishment” candidates. Nonetheless, the Sanders counterpoint to the establishment sucked the air out of O’Malley’s campaign, and no matter how shocked we are supposed to be at the DNC’s pro-Clinton outlook, it would perhaps seem more shocking and less wise had Bernie brought a platform.
β See also: Wilentz, Sean. “Hillary’s New Deal: How a Clinton Presidency Could Transform America”. Rolling Stone. 11 August 2011.
Image note: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)
Stanage, Niall. “Why Clinton needs to win big”. The Hill. 6 September 2016.