Frightened party-line Democrats think they’ve got a solution to their unique “woman problem” if they can find the right surgeon. Instead of finding an alternative to Hillary Clinton, they propose a charisma transplant.
Perhaps the donor is Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, or maybe even Joe Biden. If it works, Americans would get not only the first woman president, but their first bionic president, a woman of many donated pieces.
Beating Bernie in the primaries doesn’t concern the party hacks; if, over the long run of primaries, Hillary can’t do it, the presidency she ought to pursue is on a quiet, leafy campus in New England. Wellesley, perhaps.
Successful charisma transplants are rare, and a long shot for Hillary if, indeed, anyone can find someone who knows how to do one. Bubba was a bust when the Hillary campaign put him to work on the stump, hoping that something helpful would rub off on the missus. The roguish grin has lost the charm that once devastated many a foolish feminine libido, and he got mostly giggles and catcalls from young women who hold him accountable for the naughty sins that never troubled their mothers in an earlier century. The only strategy better than keeping Bubba at home from now on is keeping Hillary at home from now on, preferably in the closet where she keeps that infamous email server.
“It’s the quiet chatter among operatives in New York, Washington and beyond:” reports Politico, the political daily, “If [Hillary] has got so much trouble connecting with people that she’s stuck in a long primary slog against an upstart Socialist senator from Vermont with a beyond-Brooklyn Jewish accent, that’s because at least some of these voters are more driven by being anti-Hillary than pro-Bernie.” Indeed, probably most of them.
Hillary’s true believers can’t figure out what’s happened to her, though they concede privately that the scorn is wider, deeper and longer-lasting than they first imagined. They can’t blame Hillary, so it must be the Republicans. They’ve discovered for themselves what generations of Democrats before would have told them, that election campaigns are about sharp elbows, bloody noses and chipped teeth. Anyone who supports Bernie because they oppose Hillary, says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of Hillary’s fiercest fans, “needs to think about why do they think that, because those are the fingerprints of the Republican smear machine all over that.”
The Democrats blinded by reality in Iowa, where Hillary squandered opportunities and a 30-point polling lead, continue to chatter about data points and comparative polling percentages, and how Hillary will make up ground when the campaign gets out of the snow and ice and the rubber hits the dry road. She’ll talk with renewed conviction about climate change, gun control, college affordability and the rants that people in the comfortable Clinton bubble want to hear about.
“The challenge is not so much support, but energy,” says Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, “At the end of the day, when we have our nominee, can the [energy] of the person who is not our nominee be carried over to the nominee.” He professes “cautious optimism” that it can. But “cautious optimism” never persuades anyone, whether in love or war, or manufacturing dreams from fading hopes.
The candidate with charisma can do that, one who can dispense a little magic dust to enable a voter to look at an empty arena littered with paper cups and frayed banners and see a new president presiding over an inaugural parade, and hear choirs singing “Happy Times Are Here Again.”
This is the fantasy that Bernie Sanders has sold to “the kids,” the children of the kids who followed Eugene McCarthy to the convention in Chicago in 1968. They shaved and showered to “get clean for Gene” and even found clean clothes for the trip. The Democratic crack-up followed, delivering Richard Nixon.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico who is no particular friend of Hillary’s, dating from the collapse of her campaign in 2008 in straits remarkably similar to those of this year, thinks she must find a way to persuade “the kids” this year that Bernie is pushing foolish fantasy without raining on their parade.
She should avoid talking about specifics, tax credits, grim economics and the rest of the wonkery she knows best, resisting the urge to talk specifics, and weave magic. That’s “morning in America” talk, and it’s what America yearns to hear. But it has to come from somebody who believes it, and to make others believe it. It’s called charisma, and it’s exactly what Hillary Clinton doesn’t have.
• Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief emeritus of The Times.