The media’s go-to narrative in preparation for Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was simple: Can she rise to the moment?
CNN said, “Hillary Clinton’s allies did everything in their power to set up her big moment Thursday night. Now it’s up to her to deliver.” Vox said, “Hillary Clinton has one job tonight: Deliver a kick-ass speech.” And Politico, in a story titled, “Can Clinton meet the moment,” wondered whether the “charisma challenged candidate” can “change baked-in perceptions that she lays authenticity and vision.”
Of course, it was all just a tee-up for today’s headline, which will inevitably be a resounding “YES.” It’s difficult to begrudge the press their narrative, and to be honest, there wasn’t much wrong with Clinton’s speech. Sure, her delivery could have been better, especially the first-half (the Bernie hecklers didn’t help, and neither did the HILL-A-RY chants meant to drown them out), but she’s never going to have the comfortably delivery of her husband or the moving touch of President Obama. And yes, she delivered some effective lines against her Republican counterpart, and did a decent job of laying out her admittedly impressive resume.
But those are also the biggest problems. Clinton only appeared strong insofar as she had Donald Trump as a foil. And she was only able to focus on her strengths, but continued to ignore her weaknesses, pretending as if the voting public will simply forget why they dislike and distrust her.
As Chris Cillizza wrote for the Washington Post:
But, the speech didn’t really show us a side of Clinton we didn’t know. No one questions her long record of fighting for progressive policy. No one doubts her comprehensive knowledge of issues. But, a vote for president isn’t based solely on a laundry list of policy proposals and positions. It’s also a vote for the person running for the office. And I’m not sure Clinton did enough to show that other side of her.
Clinton attempted to reach out to her skeptics.
“I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me,” Clinton told the DNC crowd. “So let me tell you.”
But what followed was an explanation of who her parents were, followed by an abrupt transition to talking about her days at the Children’s Defense Fund, followed by an sweet, if out-of-place, recap of some of the DNC’s moving speakers. In the end we only got one sentence about who Hillary is, which came off as if she didn’t have much to say about herself, as if the only personalizing moment she could think of was yet another story of working hard to gather facts and get a policy passed.
It didn’t work because Clinton’s problem is not that Americans don’t know what to make of her, it’s that they believe they know exactly what to make of her. That’s she’s untrustworthy, that she stretches the law to meet her needs, that she uses her public position to enrich herself, and that she constantly finds herself in scandal because she engages in questionable behavior. These are not exactly snap judgements. For better or worse, Clinton has been been building her brand of cutting ethical corners since 1992.
As Kimberly Strassel explains in the Wall Street Journal, to understand why Clinton needed to focus on humanizing herself, just take a loot at Trump’s poll numbers:
He is currently leading in the Real Clear Politics average despite no real ground game, little real fundraising, little policy message, a divided conservative electorate, and one of the messiest conventions on record. As of June 30, Mrs. Clinton and her allies had raised a stunning $600 million, which is already being spent to trash Mr. Trump. Yet to little or no effect. Mr. Trump is hardly a potted plant, but even if he were . . .
Mrs. Clinton’s problem is Mrs. Clinton. She is running against her own ethical morass. Already she was asking voters to forget about cattle futures and fake sniper fire and Whitewater and Travelgate. Then she chose to vividly revive the public nausea with her self-serving email stunt and her Clinton Foundation money grubbing.
Clinton and her team aren’t novices. They know her weaknesses. And rather than attempt to level-set with voters about them, or even put forth a spirited defense of them, Clinton chose the formulaic route of running off a laundry list of liberal initiatives. She can do that anytime, and whenever she does it will most likely be just as forgettable. Nevertheless, her team felt like that was her best strategy, which says a lot about the depths of her personal deficits and the odds that she can overcome them.