Opinion

Hillary Clinton is still a terrible candidate

Yeah, she crushed some ants on stage. So what?

Oh, how stupid we all were! Remember that time five minutes ago when we all wanted Joe Biden — Joe Flipping Biden — to get in the race? I can't either. And all that anxiety about an email server in Chappaqua, New York? Preposterous. At the first Democratic debate last week, Hillary Clinton sent a message to doubters: "Crushed it!" Cancel the future debates. Let's start picking her cabinet. She's got this.

Hate to spoil the party, everyone. But Hillary did not make herself queen last week.

Conventional wisdom, like the above from last week, is like a traditional soufflé in a microwave. Instant, tasteless, likely to collapse any minute. Yes, Clinton can unite her party. Especially when the other options are an avowed socialist, a former Republican senator, a former Reagan official who smiles at the thought of killing on the battlefield, and a former Maryland governor who built a cops-and-incarceration résumé and ran in the exact year when those politics seem cruelly out of date.

But did last week change any of her problems?

Televised debate moments produce no prose worth reading. We're a democracy after all. Reagan's "There you go again" is considered the top of the genre. And Clinton's big moment came when Anderson Cooper asked if she wanted to respond to an implication by Lincoln Chafee that Clinton's decision to run a home-brew email setup showed a lack of ethics. "No," she replied. Other big moments came when she responded to Bernie Sanders: "But we are not Denmark," she said, "I love Denmark. We are the United States of America."

Owned! I guess. Hail the conquering Hillary.

Except, maybe the enthusiastic reviews of her debate are a form of compensation. Clinton simply delayed the panic. She's still not so dominant in measures other than media buzz. The avowed socialist is nipping at her heels in fundraising. And occasionally beating her in the polls in New Hampshire. It's hard to see him plausibly uniting the whole party; his supporters are likely to accept Clinton in the end, hers may not accept him. But what if she did have a real opponent. The GOP may give her one this time, even if they haven't before.

I cannot stop emphasizing: Hillary Clinton's only electoral victories were in one of the most Democratic states in the country and against nobodies. She defeated an incompetent Republican backbencher, Rick Lazio, in 2000. In 2006, the New York State Republican Party sent John Spencer, mayor of Yonkers, to be its sacrificial lamb. Clinton spent $36 million defeating Spencer in an election with a 23 percent voter turnout. Spencer had raised just over $5 million, and was given to describing people as having a "Chinaman's chance." Not exactly a model for defeating the GOP this time — unless Donald Trump is her opponent, he suddenly goes dead broke, and his name recognition drops by roughly 97 percent. (The "Chinaman's chance" thing, I can imagine him saying.)

Clinton was beat when Barack Obama slyly made ethics and conviction the themes of his campaign. Sanders foreswore the possibility of talking about her email server, and he seems not at all interested in contrasting his constancy of conviction with her history of expedient changes of heart.

And even in that debate, one can imagine the attack lines.

Clinton asked the audience to consider what she's "accomplished in the Senate, as secretary of of state, and then draw your own conclusion." A Republican might actually point out that when she asks us to fill in the blanks, it's because that record is mostly blank. Or bad. In the debate she referred to the U.S. intervention in Libya as "smart power at its best." Surely Jeb Bush could point out that Libya is now plagued by the Islamic State, and anarchy reigns there to such a degree that it is now one of the major veins through which a refugee crisis flows into Europe. Clinton called for "a new New Deal for communities of color," which sounds almost exactly like the kind of phrase you might use in the 1950s. Rubio, who says that he is the candidate of tomorrow, will not let her get away with hawking 80-year old policy ideas.

Clinton has never beaten a first-class opponent. And nothing in her recent campaign should cause us to forget it.

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