Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Column: No, pundits, Hillary Clinton isn't collapsing
Has the political pundit class lost its collective mind?
In a year in which every other supposed front-runner and establishment candidate has collapsed to single digits or has already withdrawn from the race — yes, I am talking about you, Jeb Bush, and you, Scott Walker — Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field with more than 40 percent of the vote. Can Bernie Sanders, who is 15 points behind her in recent polling, represent a real threat to her nomination? No. Hell no. Not a chance. But pundits keep asking the question without pointing out the obvious answer.
And given the fact that no vice president who has sought his party's nomination has ever been denied it, you would think Clinton's 20-point lead over Joe Biden would be seen as a remarkable sign of strength. Instead, when pundits mention Clinton's lead over the vice president, they always follow up with the fact that Biden has yet to enter officially — and rarely caution that he may never enter it and that even if he does, he'll start 20 points behind.
When has anyone been so strong that he or she led a sitting vice president by 20 points? Does the punditry really think it's because he hasn't announced yet?
Was the private server a mistake? Yes. Have questions about Clinton's emails hurt her? Of course. Has her campaign been clumsy and mishandled the situation? No doubt about it. But there should also be no doubt that Clinton remains a formidable front-runner who will be tough to beat even if Biden enters the race. And she'll be formidable in the general election, too.
If the GOP wasn't convinced that she could block their path to the White House in November 2016, they wouldn't be trying so hard to stop her right now. If they thought her knees would buckle and she was really going to collapse — if they thought she would be a breeze to defeat —they would hold their fire until she was the Democratic nominee.
Things the pundits seem to have missed:
Clinton's 2008 campaign made the fatal error of writing off caucus states as unimportant. She came in third in Iowa and barely reached 30 percent of the vote there. In total, caucus states cost her 100 delegates in a race she lost to Barack Obama by fewer than 300. The fact is her campaign will not make that mistake again. Clinton has recruited the best caucus organizers in the Democratic Party. She will be stronger in Iowa and gain far more delegates in caucus states in 2016.
Like it or not, pundits, it's a better campaign this time around and far more organized.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the "Hillary is collapsing" storyline is the complete underestimation of her strength beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, in more ethnically diverse states. In 2008, Obama proved early on that he could win his fair share of the progressive white vote; then he dominated Clinton with nonwhites across the rest of the country. And yet he still lost the popular vote (if you include Michigan, where he wasn't on the ballot) and won the delegate count only by the slimmest of margins.
To believe that Sanders or even Biden can defeat Clinton, you have to believe they can run as well against her (after the first two contests) as Obama did. The obstacles to pulling that off are significant.
First, 56 percent of Democratic voters are women, who prefer Clinton to her rivals. And unlike Obama, who held Clinton to just 20 percent of the nonwhite vote through much of 2008, Sanders is trailing Clinton by 40 to 60 points among nonwhite Democrats. Pundits seem to enjoy questioning Clinton's ability to energize the Obama coalition, but Sanders hasn't been able to get out of the teens in terms of support among blacks or Latinos. Biden fares better, but he's not Obama either.
The pundits say this is an outsider year and that voters from both parties are frustrated. And yet Clinton leads Sanders and Biden nationally in every poll. She has problems that she needs to address, of course, but look across the aisle at the GOP field and find a nominee who doesn't. Good luck.
The pundits have it wrong. Unless or until Biden decides to run, Clinton doesn't face much of a challenge. And if Biden does run, Clinton is still going to be very tough to beat.