Hillary's Quandry: Now what?

Washington Matters

Hillary's Quandry: Now what?

The political obituarists are edging up to a formal pronouncement of death for the Clinton campaign. It's Obama's to lose, they say. Hillary Clinton no longer controls her own destiny. Perhaps. But what's closer to the truth is that regardless of whether Barack Obama slips up or not, Clinton has to put herself front and forward in the campaign and all but ignore him. To do otherwise plays to his strengths and draws attention to her weaknesses.

That's why the reported dispute among her top aides over whether to launch an even more negative campaign against the front-runner -- especially in Thursday's debate --  is just plain silly.

Here's why:

  • It's not working. Clinton hit Obama hard during the Wisconsin campaign and lost by 17 points. Remember the definition of insanity? Keep trying the same thing and expect different results.
  • Clinton's base is eroding. Negative campaigning is intended to shake voter confidence in your opponent. But Clinton's problem is that voting blocs that were once solidly behind her are changing their minds. Winning them back and hanging on to the rest means giving them something to vote for.
  • She's making Obama's argument for him. Obama is campaigning against politics as usual. "Going negative" as your campaign falters is about as usual as it gets. In other words, the more Clinton attacks, the more she will remind people of what they hate about politics -- and the more Obama will reminds them that he wants to change all that.
  • Show me, don't tell me. Clinton's overarching argument has been that her opponent is all talk and she's all action and experience. But the more she makes the argument, the more it sounds like rhetoric and argument. It won't be easy from here on out, but Clinton needs to demonstrate that experience. Everyone's impressed with her knowledge of policy, but she needs to find a better way to connect policy plans with real people.
  • Be Hillary. Clinton has done well when she has dropped her campaign guise and spoken from the heart. Constant attacks will make that impossible because she defines herself against Obama instead of being and defining herself. The personal connection is lost.