Watching Hillary Clinton’s campaign flounder about for a response to “Pay for Play” allegations during her time as Secretary of State makes me smile. Democrats threw their entire 2016 efforts onto the Hillary bandwagon and that wagon sure looks unsteady now. But even if the allegations prove to be unfounded the damage will have already been done. For Clinton may end up looking like the Mitt Romney of 2016.
The comparison seems appropriate. Romney was the overwhelming choice among the establishment of the GOP as Hillary is for Democrats. Both failed to excite the party’s grassroots. Both struggled despite underwhelming competition. But it is another reason why Clinton is in danger of being the Romney of 16. For just as Romney’s opponents exploited his weaknesses so will Hillary’s opponents; the perception of being elitist.
Republicans have learned much since Obama’s 2012 attack on Romney’s wealth and economic status. This had a particular impact in the Midwest where Romney was heavily competing. States like Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, chalk full of blue-collar voters did not move fully towards Romney and as a result he lost all of them. Republicans are likely rearing to do the same to Hillary Clinton. Already, GOP operatives have made clear they will use these allegations not to attack her leadership abilities but the perception she is trustworthy and able to represent everyday people.
This has always been a vulnerability of the Clinton camp. Indeed, in 2008 Obama exploited it masterfully and painted her as out of touch with the mainstream of the Democratic Party. That’s why Clinton traversed Iowa in a low-key, Mystery machinesque tour, trying to paint herself as being normal and average. But one tour is not going to change perceptions that have lasted since 2008.
The Clinton campaign has yet to fully react to the allegations and is stumbling. Their plans to paint Hillary as “everyday” have just started, er, I mean just been derailed. Unfortunately for the Clinton camp this is not the only major issue they face. She is an old woman and let’s be honest, in a face to face debate with a youthful Republican her age and past will be fully revealed. Further, the long believed idea the Clinton’s play by their own rules will not be able to be ignored any longer.
But these are paltry compared to the damage the “Pay for Play” allegations could do to Clinton. Already, third-party groups are getting ready to exploit the allegations by painting her as somebody who cannot be trusted.
Astute political observers will note that Romney could not spend money to refute Obama’s claims because of campaign finance laws. It is illegal for a candidate to spend primary money on the general election until after the Party Convention.
But the Clinton camp is also bound by the same rules as Romney. And adding to campaign’s woes is the simple fact that the allegations are eating up valuable media coverage of Clinton. Even young, Democratic voters will see their perceptions of her shaped by outlets such as the Daily Show, Youtube clippings and elsewhere as being a rich, white, plutocratic lady. The Clinton camp does not have an answer other than to push on and hope for the best. Just like Romney.
Democrats will rightly contend Clinton has time to right the ship and she does. But she cannot change the perceptions voters have of her come November 2016 if they are already firmly entrenched. These perceptions are unlikely to make a partisan Democrat vote Republican but they might be enough to make them stay home. Those same perceptions might make Republicans and Independents turn out against her in force. Clinton cannot win the race if she is turned into Romney. Right now, she definitely is looking like Romney’s female doppelganger.