The Hillary Clinton the Public Never Sees
You may have noticed that these pages are filled with snarky remarkies about Hillary Clinton. She’s the politician almost everybody loves to hate. Her negative ratings are actually lower than Donald Trump’s, but then, the people who like Trump LOVE Trump. Almost nobody “loves” Hillary, and some would say, that includes Bill.
But I did find this article. Maybe we’re all wrong.
This is not a profile of Hillary Clinton. It is not a review of her career or an assessment of her campaign. You won’t find any shocking revelations on her emails, on Benghazi, on Whitewater, or even on her health care plan.
This is an effort to answer a question I’ve been struggling with since at least 2008: Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?
I’ve come to call it “the Gap.” There is the Hillary Clinton I watch on the nightly news and that I read described in the press. She is careful, calculated, cautious. Her speeches can sound like executive summaries. . .
And then there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will. Their Hillary Clinton is spoken of in superlatives: brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective. She inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among former foes.
Interestingly, Hillary says it’s “idle” chatter—that people slam her when she’s not in a position of power.
“It’s always amusing to me that when I have a job, I have really high approval ratings,” Clinton said. “When I’m actually doing the work, I get reelected with 67 percent of the vote running for reelection in the Senate. When I’m secretary of state, I have a 66 percent approval rating.”
Why does she succeed in positions, but fails while campaigning?
Modern presidential campaigns are built to reward people who are really, really good at talking. So imagine what a campaign feels like if you’re not entirely natural in front of big crowds. Imagine that you are constantly compared to your husband, one of the greatest campaign orators of all time; that you’ve been burned again and again after saying the wrong thing in public; that you’ve been told, for decades, that you come across as calculated and inauthentic on the stump. What would you do?
When Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000, she tried to do something very strange: She tried to campaign by listening. It was called her “listening tour.”
In fact, on a one-on-one basis, listening is the one thing everyone who knows her praises her for.
“I love Bill Clinton,” says Tom Harkin, who served as senator from Iowa from 1985 to 2015. “But every time you talk to Bill, you’re just trying to get a word in edgewise. With Hillary, you’re in a meeting with her, and she really listens to you.”
The article is quite long, and it has other points, such as the effect of gender. But listening was the main point. And they offer a video of the interview.
If you bother to watch any of it, you’ll probably be surprised. She’s direct. She’s relaxed. She’s confident, without seeming arrogant. She’s listening to the questions, instead of reeling off talking points. This is the style that could work for her in a debate with Trump. He’s high-powered and aggressive. She could come off as thoughtful and respectful.
But the public may never see this side of Hillary. So what can her supporters say? Tom Moran says, “Don’t love Hillary? Fine, but vote for her, anyway.” His fear is that we may have a repeat of the 2000 election, in which “purists” voted for Ralph Nader, instead of Al Gore—as they say, “perfection as the enemy of the good.”
One of my best friends tells me he will not vote this year. He hates Hillary Clinton, and he hates Donald Trump even more.
“I hope to be in the woods hunting,” he tells me.
This election is close enough for me to lose sleep, so part of me wants to strangle him. The outcome could hinge on how millions of people like him sort through their competing dislikes. . .
In my exasperation, I called Prof. Julian Zelizer at Princeton University to talk me off the ledge. My basic question was this: How can intelligent people make voting decisions that are so self-defeating?. . .
“It’s not all rational,” Zelizer said. “This is how people identify in this day and age. I’m not sure how many voters are really practical voters.”. . .
Those Nader voters just didn’t want to be Gore people. They wanted to be the tip of the spear for the left, uncompromised and pure. And they wanted it badly enough to ignore the obvious risk that it could backfire.
Let’s face it. Hillary is awful “on the stump.” She seems strident and as “canned” as Marco Rubio, as arrogant as Newt Gingrich, as brash as Ted Cruz, almost as shrill as Carly Fiorina, as awkward as Scott Walker, as clueless as Rick Perry, and with the “dynasty” baggage of Jeb Bush.
Her only hope is to relax, and to have the same persona as the interview in the YouTube above. Otherwise, she’ll find a way to clutch defeat from the jaws of expected victory.