Hillary Clinton frequently will acknowledge that she’s not really the kind of campaigner who gets the adrenaline pumping. Instead, her pitch uses words like “steady,” “experienced” and “competent,” as compared with that bigoted, simple-minded, fraudulent madman on the other side.
The problem is that the bigoted, simple-minded, fraudulent madman she describes has already rolled over all the steady, experienced, competent Republican operatives and candidates. Donald Trump is the party’s nominee to be president of the United States.
Hillary’s spiel is that she is the one who can govern effectively, even if she doesn’t excel at all the electioneering buffoonery. We all repeatedly quote Mario Cuomo, who said campaigning is “poetry,” governing is “prose.” Well that’s one way to put it, but it’s far too elegant. More accurately, campaigning is a freak show; governing is drudgery. Just ask that now gray-haired campaign poet Barack Obama.
What’s essential to realize, however, is that you can’t run the country unless you win the election, and freak shows, uh, trump substance in today’s social-media world of hateful superficiality. To put it another way, Donald Trump can win this thing if Hillary Clinton and her people don’t pull their act together. Emphasizing her qualifications traps her in the hated status quo.
In that regard, while few question the credentials of Clinton’s vice-presidential pick and very few haven’t been charmed by his aw-shucks personality, Timothy Kaine is another Hillary. The dogmatic lefties in the party, the millions in the Bernie brigade, who are now infuriated with the hacked emails showing that the Democratic Party rigged the primaries for Hillary, certainly aren’t happy with Kaine. They believe he’s just another Clinton-style sellout, another establishment puppet. He’s definitely not a dogmatic liberal, but rather one who believes that civilized dealing is the only way to get anything done. But these are not civilized times. People are angry in our country. So Hillary and now Tim Kaine might have a tough time if they both present themselves as the personifications of reason. What we could have with that ticket is the perception that it’s the bland leading the bland.
Not that Mike Pence is much different. He, too, is described with terms like “low-key,” etc. Is it too harsh to suggest that’s a synonym for boring? Maybe so, but there is no problem on his side when you consider who his No. 1 is. Donald Trump, as so many have observed, doesn’t need a shameless attack dog. With his hateful hucksterism, he has been able to reach the visceral darkest instincts of millions of people all by himself. Where the Trumpster spews poison, Mike Pence dollops pablum. And that’s OK.
Even so, despite his manner, Mike Pence can be plenty controversial. His harsh social-conservative record is scorned by those who are more attuned to gay rights and abortion rights. At the same time, as Indiana governor, he ended up antagonizing those on the right when he jettisoned their grossly intolerant anti-gay legislation to placate corporate interests. He can be a hot button all by himself. But next to Trump, he’s the cool one.
He was barely noticed at the Republican National Convention. Talk about the amateur hours — each day featured its own embarrassment. In normal times, that would send a party and its candidates reeling. But these are not normal times.
It’s important for Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine and the Democrats to realize that. The soft sell just doesn’t sell. While we all talk about longing for a substantive discussion of the issues, that’s platitude and phony. Hillary and her people need to abandon the methodical routine and show that she can be a little bit crazy.
If not crazy, at least angry, or some sort of emotional. The campaign thus far has demonstrated that we the people are bitter. For good reason. Somehow she and Tim Kaine must better capture everyone’s imagination. For motivation they should imagine Donald Trump as president.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.