Blessed art those who are ready for Hillary Clinton, for they have the patience of saints.
Every day, they gather money and names and deep data to lay at her feet in preparation for her presidential announcement.
Every day, they chant, “We think she will, we think she will, we know she will, we know she will!”
And every day, they are rewarded with silence.
Not since Hamlet first strode upon the stage circa 1599 and dithered over whether he wanted “to be or not to be” have so many held their collective breath for an answer.
Will Hillary Clinton run? Well, yes, of course she will run. But the official line — to call it a strategy would be to give it more credit than it deserves — is that she is torn between her duty to her country and her love for her family. One of her possible future staff members (their numbers are legion) tried to convince me recently that she may not run in order to spend time with her new grandchild. But if she were to run and win, I pointed out, she could be not only a helicopter grandparent but a helicopter grandparent with the full use of Marine One.
Yet these are her wilderness months. She received a mere $14 million as a book advance. And she remains haunted by the memory of coming “out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” a memory in the same category of her undergoing sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996 — which is to say, sincerely remembered but actually fictional.
But now she must force herself to take private jets around the country to deliver $300,000 speeches, where, according to her printed requests, she must have lemon wedges, room-temperature water, diet ginger ale and “a platter of crudité and hummus in the green room.”
Many of her devoted followers are depending on her to announce for president no later than January and go out and campaign already. Legally, she could continue to give speeches for huge bucks while she pursues the presidency, but that might not sit well with the public.
So far, Hillary’s non-campaign campaign is based on three things: She is the inevitable Democratic nominee. She deserves the presidency. And there is nobody who can beat her.
All are arguable. All are insufficient. Americans want to hear what you intend to achieve and how you intend to achieve it. They want to know where you will take the country and the world. They want from Hillary what Hillary doesn’t want to give them: the “vision” thing that she finds all soft and gooey and embarrassing.
But the hard fact is that Hillary’s non-campaigning campaign is not going well for her.
She is not achieving the other essential she needs to win in 2016: likability. As I have written before, in modern presidential politics, the more likable candidate almost always wins.
Hillary, it is said, will soon begin a “listening tour,” the same shopworn stunt she used in 1999 when running for the U.S. Senate in New York. Listening tours can be effective only if the public thinks you are really listening. But is there anything Hillary really, truly believes she could learn from actual people?
What she has learned so far has moved her to silence. Look at the recent coverage in Politico alone:
David Nather and Katie Glueck on Nov. 26: “One by one, potential 2016 candidates are starting to weigh in on this week’s events in Ferguson — carefully. ... And Hillary Clinton? She’s stayed silent, and her aides are giving no sign that that’s about to change.”
Headline on Maggie Haberman’s Dec. 1 story: “Hillary Clinton avoids Keystone at conservation group event.”
Harry Enten, a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight ran a chart Monday, labeled “Hillary Clinton’s Popularity Continues to Drop.” He wrote that Hillary’s net favorable rating has continued to fall since she left the Cabinet, and it reached an all-time low in the most recent Economist/YouGov poll, a result echoed, he said, by recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Quinnipiac University polls.
She is also continuing to drop when matched against potential Republican rivals. “Any lead Clinton does have is almost entirely attributable to being better known,” Enten wrote.
Enten admitted such polls “are not very predictive” at this stage of the game but concluded that Hillary “no longer looks like such a juggernaut.”
Hillary has the clout to scare off some Democratic primary opponents, but not Republican opponents. True, she might be lucky enough to face off in a general election against some wacko Republican extremist who virtually hands the election to her. But depending upon your enemy to do the right thing is a dangerous way to begin any battle.
Hillary needs to announce for the presidency. Soon. The media have moved from Hillary fatigue to Hillary exhaustion, and this is not helping her.
She needs to make her announcement speech in front of a live audience, not on videotape like last time or even on Imax 3-D. She must continue to make many more speeches for many more months, all free.
And she needs to present not just competence and vision but a likable personality that her friends insist represents the true her. This is called campaigning, and though it doesn’t always come with hummus and crudités, it might just make her president.