One thing is absolutely certain in this election, Americans are fed up with the government and the two-party political establishment. We are pissed off at Republicans and Democrats and we are letting them know it. The most successful candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, barely even wear the labels of Democrat and Republican. In fact, it just doesn’t seem like those old words Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, etc. mean what they used to mean before. There’s a new language in politics today.
Hillary Clinton absolutely got her ass handed to her in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, and that didn’t have to happen. She and her campaign just haven’t recognized today’s political realities and the new language of politics in 2016. Clinton hasn’t adapted to the new landscape, and is running a with the old language and context of the past.
Clinton actually started the campaign off on the right foot. Her “everyday Americans” announcement video and early campaign theme struck the right tone. It was essentially, “It’s about you and me, America. Let’s work together to make our country better.” Then she threw that message out the window and fell into to the traditional inside-the-box partisan establishment-type of politics that most people are sick of.
I noticed her new tone when watching her speeches in Iowa, where she barely eked out a victory by the slimmest of margins. First, she told voters that Sanders wasn’t even a Democrat, and she was the best Democrat in the race. Then, she went on and on about how much better at government the Democrats are than the Republicans. It was the same old Republicans versus Democrats, our team versus their team, inside-the-box, predictable establishment candidate speech. It was the same kind of old speech that has driven our government to gridlock and kinda makes your ears burn when you hear it.
I guess she thought her new Iowa speech would appeal to Democratic Party loyalist. Any campaign that only appeals to party loyalists is going to fail because the numbers of party loyalists in either party are barely measurable anymore. Doubling down on being a Democrat, even in a Democratic primary, is just stupid when voters are flocking to anti-establishment candidates. It did the opposite of what she wanted and drove voters into Sanders’s open arms.
Then, the Clinton campaign got into a vocabulary battle with Sanders, fighting about the definition of the word “progressive.” They got dragged into and bogged down in a debate over what a progressive is, when the old words don’t mean what they used to mean, and frankly, ideology just doesn’t matter this year, anyway. Do you think Trump’s voters care if he is the most conservative? No, and Sander’s voters don’t care about how progressive anyone is, no matter what the Sanders campaign says. It’s about who is fed up with the system and ready to change it and who isn’t.
It’s not just the language and specific words that are her problems, it’s visuals too. On Friday, Clinton paraded around New Hampshire with a gaggle of old ladies from the US Senate. She even did a national television interview with the senators standing behind her. They were supposed to be using their female powers of persuasion to attract new women voters, but the reality is that nothing says “same old, same old” like a bunch of old senators. And nothing says tone deaf more than a campaign that would arrange such a picture in 2016’s anti-establishment political climate.
Clinton’s parade of surrogates, who have benefitted from the broken political system, was only broken up by her quick trips to fundraisers with her donors who have benefitted from the broken economic system. That all created an optic that’s repulsive to most Americans, regardless of party.
Are the Clintons and their staff really that out of touch with America today? Kinda.
You see, they aren’t like the rest of us who are working and working, fighting the system, just trying to get ahead, and never seeming to get anywhere. From the Clintons on down to their most junior campaign staffer, they don’t get it because the political system has worked for all of them. They are insiders who have all played by the rules and won elections and/or landed jobs on the establishment campaigns. They don’t get it because they aren’t fed up, like we are.
The winner this year will be the candidate who can transcend politics as we have known it. Remake the message and convince voters that they can see things from their perspective. Can the Clinton campaign creatures of the political establishment learn a new political language and learn to connect with what’s going in America today? Maybe. (I hope so.)
I happen to be a Clinton supporter because she’s the most qualified to be president, and I think she can still “get it” and genuinely show empathy with all of us, but she better do it fast.