Clinton’s Messaging Strategy is a Mess

The Clintons weren’t happy with the Iowa results. In response, advisers reportedly said that the family “wanted to ensure that her organization, political messaging and communications strategy were in better shape for the contests to come.”

If this week has been any indication, they are failing miserably.

Clinton’s downfall in Iowa was failing to effectively communicate a positive message. From the minute that Bernie Sanders became a factor in the race, Clinton shifted leftwards, worried that she was going to cede progressive votes. The result was a clearly phony message that failed to resonate when pitted against the righteous (albeit misplaced) anger of Bernie Sanders. Sensing that she would never win over’ Socialist-lite vote, she then adopted a strategy comprised solely of trying to make Sanders’ ideas seem idealistic at best, nonsensical at worst.

Unsurprisingly, primary voters weren’t exactly moved by her pragmatism. In a year dominated by political outsiders and anti-establishment insurgents, Clinton’s tack seemed like the usual finger-in-the-wind tricks of a lifelong politician. People are angry at the status quo and want some fire (even if it’s aimed at ridiculous ends) out of their candidate. The only thing Clinton is angry about is that she’s having to slog through a campaign rather than waltz through a coronation.

And yet, with the New Hampshire primary looming, Clinton hasn’t reshuffled her team or reshaped her message. Instead, it’s more of the same…practicality and sanctimony.

“I’m fighting for people who cannot wait for those changes, and I’m not making promises I can’t keep,” Clinton said in her opening statement in the most recent primary debate, clearly hinting that Sanders’ plans were little more than pie-in-the-sky dreams.

“[T]he numbers just don’t add up, from what Senator Sanders has been proposing,” Clinton continued. “Let’s go down a path where we can actually tell people what we will do. A progressive is someone who makes progress. That’s what I intend to do.”

But Sanders framed her negativism as evidence of standing as the “establishment” candidate, one who has been bought and paid for by Wall Street interests.

“Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent ordinary working Americans,” Sanders said.

“What being part of the establishment is, is, in the last quarter, having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one’s life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests.”

This line seemed to raise Clinton’s ire. Rather than dig in and demand a debate over issues or simply explain what she would do to rein in Wall Street’s excesses, Clinton became defensive and went after Sanders personally.

“I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks,” Clinton said.

“[His attack] really comes down to anyone who ever took donations or speaking fees from interest groups has to be bought, and I absolutely reject that Senator. I really don’t think those attacks by insinuation are worthy of you,” Clinton continued.

This battle pretty much encapsulates everything that is wrong with Clinton’s strategy. She’s failing to run her own race, instead triangulating her position based on Sanders’ moves. If he move left, she moves left. If he talks about healthcare, she talks about why his plan is unrealistic. If she does go on the attack, it’s on Sanders’ favorite issue: Wall Street. Why on earth would she make the decision to pick a fight on her ties to Wall Street, or defend her outrageous speaking fees, two issues that give Sanders’ plenty of opportunity and ammunition to discuss the anti-Wall Street populism that drives his campaign.

This is turf that Clinton will never win on. To see why, just look at the fallout from the debate – a significant chunk of the chatter has been about whether she would release the transcripts of the speeches she gave to Wall Street firms, the content of which would almost certainly be damaging to her campaign.

This is political campaigning at its worst. Fortunately, we Republicans get to simply sit back, grab the popcorn, and watch the Democrat drama unfold.

Cover photo credit: Gage Skidmore