Hillary Clinton may be the weakest prohibitive favorite ever to run for the presidency.
She is generally given strong odds of beating Donald Trump in the fall, yet she is tied with him in the early going as she struggles to shake a 74-year-old socialist who persists in notching victories in the Democratic primary contest.
Armed with an impeccable resume and pedigree, and an impressive campaign and fundraising apparatus, Hillary has it all — except a rationale for her campaign and the ability to excite voters.
The latter failing is made all the more striking by what has happened all around Clinton this year. She is bracketed in her own party and the opposing party by candidates who routinely draw crowds numbering in the thousands. Who are vivid and unmistakably themselves. Who have memorable catchphrases that capture their core message in a few words. Who are running crusades as much as campaigns.
If Donald Trump wants to make America great again, Hillary wants to keep it OK; if Bernie Sanders wants to incite a political revolution, Hillary wants to convene a task force to come up with options short of a revolution, to be studied closely for a decision at a later date. In an election season buffeted by gale-force winds of change, Clinton is the status quo rendered in the most stultifying conventional fashion possible.
Hillary is hated without being interesting. Yes, the Republicans nominated a radioactive candidate, but only after a great upheaval forged by a highly entertaining figure who upset all prior conventions and norms. The Democrats are nominating an equally radioactive presidential candidate as the “safe” alternative of their establishment.
If Donald Trump is the next president of the United States, a key reason will be that the best and brightest of the Democratic Party fully bought into the Clinton Ascendancy. It left them with no viable alternative to a deeply flawed candidate who, on top of her other weaknesses, is under FBI investigation.
Clinton has managed to beat back the Sanders challenge — if not fully vanquish him — in her trademark grind-it-out, thoroughly uninspiring manner. Just imagine if Sanders had the media skills of a Donald Trump, or if the Democratic establishment had been less unified against him, or if he were a plausible general-election candidate.
They say of talented fielders in baseball that they “make it look easy”; Clinton makes most everything in politics, even defeating a manifestly unsuited rival like Sanders, look difficult.
She has been running for president on and off since 2007, and still has a proverbial “Roger Mudd problem” (the CBS journalist who famously stumped Ted Kennedy when he asked him why he was running for president). What is Hillary’s elevator pitch? She doesn’t have one. Her latest version of a signature line is “Stronger Together,” albeit with the caveat that “slogans come and go and all the rest of it.”
The truth is that Hillary is running to become president by default. She hopes that her campaign — assisted by associated Democratic groups and a sympathetic media — will make Trump so unacceptable by the fall that the public will have no option but to turn to someone it doesn’t particularly like or trust as the only alternative. She will win the unpopularity contest by losing it a little less badly than Trump.
This is far from a crazy bet, although it is fundamentally a defensive posture. All signs are that Trump will dominate the conversation in the general election just as he did in the Republican primaries. By always painting with bold colors, he made the other 16 candidates look small and weak, and could do the same with her. Trump at least has some chance of capturing people’s imaginations and changing the rules of the game.
Hillary will paint by numbers, and be formidable only to the extent voters consider not being Donald Trump a recommendation for high office.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.