Hillary and Bill Clinton were prepared to lose, but there’s a loss and then there’s a shellacking. After barely winning Iowa, with its coin-tosses and independent calls for a public recount of the secret ballots, getting trounced by Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire by 20 points suggests tissue-rejection of the Clinton candidacy. It’s likely some of those voters weren’t even pro-Sanders, just turned off by Clinton. The Republican race is starting to look tame by comparison.
The rejection went to her character. Among Democrats who say they care most about honesty and trustworthiness, she lost by 86 points. None of Bill’s lip-biting brand attached to her: She lost by 65 points among those who want their candidate to care about people like themselves. Then there are the women. Although they were threatened with eternal damnation, a majority of women – seven in 10 under 45 – did not vote for the would-be first female president.
The Clintons’ shell-shocked expressions onstage Feb. 9 in New Hampshire showed that they now see reality. It’s going to be a long, hard, and painful slog against someone without her experience but who stirs admiration and affection. Hillary could have spoken from the heart – even the robotic Marco Rubio managed that in his concession – but she read from the teleprompter, though at times she edged close to Howard Dean’s post-Iowa scream in 2004.
The map favors her going forward, but if she were flying commercial, she would have to pay additional fees for all her extra baggage. She’s dragging a steamer trunk of worry over the State Department emails still dribbling out. While New Hampshire voters were trekking to the polls, a federal judge ordered the Justice Department to explain delays in handing over 7,000 pages of messages and portions of another 3,700. That’s small potatoes compared to the FBI investigation into the legality of the whole private and unsecured server she set up for her “convenience.”
With the loss in New Hampshire, cries for Clinton to release the transcripts of her $675,000 Goldman Sachs payday are getting louder. It would be totally unlike the Clintons to hand over anything willingly, even though the actual speeches aren’t likely to be all that damaging. They probably consist of anodyne travelogues with a few jokes, mentions of being a grandmother and some rote pandering to the audience. But the real action takes place outside the formalities. The big bucks are paid for face time, sometimes a meal, with the hosts and their top clients. A speech? $300,000. A future phone call returned (Remember me? We met at the Goldman Sachs conference): priceless. That’s why members of Congress are not allowed to do it anymore.
Then there’s the woman thing. Being a woman, which might have been an advantage in 2008 if Clinton had used it, is not working this time. She did worst among young women who are certain a woman will soon become president and there’s no big rush to elect this one that they don’t particularly know except from headlines they don’t like. Gloria Steinem didn’t help with her speculation that pro-Sanders women were in it only to meet hot guys. No one believes you have to vote for a woman to remain in the sisterhood. The logical extension of that is that Republican women should all vote for Carly Fiorina.
The issue of sexism has not been kind to Hillary, yet Bill stepped right in it over the weekend. It didn’t go over any better than when Hillary accused Donald Trump of sexism and he dredged up her behavior during Bill’s “bimbo eruptions.” She preserved her marriage despite them, and more power to her, but attitudes have changed toward the stand-by-your-man-and-malign-the-woman approach. It’s not just young women. Older ones now look with regret at their knee-jerk support for a president because he was otherwise good on their issues.
Maybe it’s HDTV, but stagecraft is so obvious now. Clinton’s sense of entitlement comes through, while Sanders’ basic decency is apparent whenever the camera lands on his wild hair, bad suits and Brooklyn accent. The Clintons exude the belief that the country would be lucky to get them back, not the other way around. Jeb Bush is doing better because he was humbled by doing so badly. The coronation he might have expected for being a Bush has melted away like the many pounds he lost on his Paleo-diet.
Clinton is lucky in one way. Although others might, Sanders will not go after her damn sexism or damn speech transcripts, any more than he’s going after the damn emails.
Amid word of shake-ups in the Clinton staff after the New Hampshire drubbing, there is a feeling that Sanders has been treated with kid gloves. Accusing him of an “artful smear” for bringing up her ties to Wall Street is small beer. Now it’s no more Ms. Nice Guy.
This calls for delicacy. Many people doubt Sanders belongs in the Oval Office. Almost no one wants to see the Clinton machine chew him up.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Bloomberg View.