Op-ed: The candidate who wasn’t there

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, September 7, 2016 5:08pm
  • Opinion

William McKinley would be proud. Hillary Clinton has been running the closest thing possible in the modern context to a front-porch campaign.

She is happy to have the race all about her opponent, rather than herself. She avoids press conferences, although she has taken to visiting reporters at the back of her campaign plane for some questions. She hasn’t said anything truly memorable that isn’t a gaffe. Her best moment of the campaign, the Democratic convention, featured vivid performances by nearly everyone in her party except her.

Hillary is relying on the strength of her organization to hoist her over the finish line, and wants to win the presidency by default.

It’s as if Michael Dukakis became the Democratic nominee and happened to luck into running against a radioactive candidate conducting a real-time experiment in whether it’s possible to win the presidency without building a presidential campaign. And yet for all of Donald Trump’s weaknesses, Hillary is barely leading him. According to the new CNN poll, her voters are less enthusiastic than his are. Her unfavorable rating is just a tick below his when he has spent a year gleefully trampling every political piety and she is determinedly cautious and colorless.

It is telling that at the height of her lead in August, she was almost entirely absent. She let Trump dictate the pace of the campaign, often to his own detriment. As he has become more disciplined, this approach may have reached its natural limit.

But Hillary herself lacks almost all the qualities that make for a compelling presidential candidate. She isn’t fresh. She has been prominent in our politics, and controversial, for 25 years.

She isn’t entertaining or inspiring. Her speeches never achieve rhetorical liftoff, and she has the most insincere laugh in American politics.

She isn’t associated with a cause. In the Democratic primaries, she bent to the energy of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, and in the general election, she has found her voice only when attacking Donald Trump.

She isn’t ethical. The debris field from her private email server and the shady dealings of the Clinton Foundation will stretch into November, and perhaps beyond.

Already wealthy by any reasonable standard and unbelievably famous, the Clintons only had to conduct themselves with some modicum of respectability the past several years to avoid creating further obstacles on Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House. Instead, Hillary bent the rules and arguably violated laws to try to keep her State Department emails from prying eyes, and the couple mingled Clinton Foundation and State Department business in, at the very least, a wildly inappropriate manner. They vacuumed up every loose dollar they could find, from Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches to Bill’s $17.6 million gig as “honorary chancellor” of a for-profit college.

Hillary wants to define political change as embodied by Donald Trump as unacceptable, but she has gone almost as far in rendering the status quo — as represented by her high-handed politics of cronyism and corner-cutting — intolerable. The Clintons famously believe that the rules don’t apply to them, and why not? First, the FBI conducted a check-the-box investigation into her emails, and then, acting like an arm of the campaign, released documents related to the investigation on the Friday afternoon before Labor Day to limit their impact. Who else can hope for such deference from the nation’s foremost law-enforcement agency?

In only one sense does Hillary Clinton perhaps match the political moment. She may be boring, unlikable and untrustworthy, but she is stolid. Her argument against Trump is based on character and temperament more than anything else, and she is making a bet that if she can define Trump as dangerous, then plodding and predictable will look alluring by comparison. It is a bold gambit to win a personality contest by having none.

As a candidate, Hillary is the emptiness at the center of her otherwise formidable campaign.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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