After 25 years, Americans are bored with Hillary Clinton – and it could stop her becoming the first female president

With the Middle East in relentless turmoil this is no time for a novelty act novice like Donald Trump. But while we fear change, in that adolescent country across the Atlantic they crave it

Matthew Norman
Sunday 29 May 2016 17:43 BST
Hillary Clinton campaigning in Kentucky
Hillary Clinton campaigning in Kentucky (Getty)

In a distant, forgotten age, when everyone was madly in love with the Democratic frontrunner, that almost flawless candidate made a rare mistake.

When the moderator of a 2008 debate asked Hillary Clinton if she was engaging enough to beat him, Barack Obama butted in with misplaced gallantry to reply on her behalf. As if that wasn’t adequately patronising, his remark was, “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” He was slaughtered for the coolly condescending tone, but was he right?

Eight years on, the question resurfaces with menace for anyone who’d rather those nuclear codes were kept out of the hands – tiny or otherwise – of the proudly ignorant, passionately racist, uber-narcissist with the creature from a galaxy far, far away in permanent residence on his scalp.

Hillary will shortly secure the nomination – but only narrowly, and on points. Her failure to land a knockout blow on the 75-year-old socialist Bernie Sanders raises doubts about her general election chances.

Some even foresee a landslide, God have mercy, for Donald Trump. Writing for The Independent, Andrew McCleod made an alarmingly cogent case for that dystopian horror show.

Clinton Slams Trump at Trayvon Martin Foundation's Mothers Conference

I happen to disagree, being unable (or possibly unwilling) to envisage how Trump can take the pivotal swing states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida – with such stellar disapproval ratings among crucial demographics. I also have a residual faith that the US is not so dunce-stupid as to fall for a transparent grifter.

Then again, in this time of miracles when Jeremy Corbyn leads Labour and Leicester City are champions, all is possible.

So why is Hillary, although so blessed in her opponents, in strife? One explanation is that concerns about her hands-off relationship with the truth extend beyond angry white men. As the private email farrago rumbles on, it isn’t only the bushy moustachioed with the stockpile of automatics and the nightly wet dream about a lynching revival who regard her as crooked. Plenty on what passes in America for the liberal left also think her crooked.

Obviously, her ownership of a uterus plays some part there. The sexism of 2016 is subtler and less conscious than in 1996, but no man embroiled in a confusing demi-scandal would be so vulnerable. Her husband was comfortably elected and re-elected regardless of the ceaseless scandals.

But one senses that the root of her difficulty is neither gender, nor dodginess, nor even unlikeability. It’s true that she projects ruthlessness more than warmth, but she is not cold or humourless. Whenever she pops up on Saturday Night Live to parody herself in a sketch, she is funny, gracious and engaging.

No one denies her intellect, or her glorious record in fighting for social justice, or that as a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State she has more experience than any candidate since 1968 (when Richard Nixon easily overcame the dishonesty issue which long predated Watergate).

And if ever the planet needed a US president with mastery of the geopolitical complexities, it is now. With the Middle East in relentless turmoil, Russia and Turkey seemingly one misguided missile from war, and North Korea’s nuclear programme continuing, this is no time for a novelty act novice like Donald Trump.

Yet despite this – despite Trump being loathed by Hispanics, African Americans and women – the two are tied in national polling. One hopes this is a blip: that once the nomination is clinched, Sanders and his fans will grudgingly support Clinton; that the more closely the undecided examine their choice, the more they will recoil from the braggardly grotesque; that after the summer conventions, she will open up a solid lead and nurse it to November’s finishing line.

But she is in serious bother right now, and the likeliest explanation I can find is that after a quarter century of exposure, the punters are so contemptuously familiar with Hillary that the electrifying prospect of a first Madam President engenders nothing but a weary “meh”.

Where we in this geriatric land fear change, in that adolescent country across the Atlantic they crave it.

Trump may have been a public figure for as long as Hillary, but in a wholly different context. As a politician, he is as minty fresh as she is stale. Given a choice between the wannabe emperor prancing hilariously about without a stitch on, and the sturdily mechanical operator in a trouser suit, you see her problem.

Strip away the racist, sexist whites whose lazy sense of entitlement has been outraged by decades of stagnating wages, remove from the equation those who want babyishly simplistic answers to massively complex questions – and there are still tens of millions who want a president to generate excitement.

Nauseating in every regard as he is, Donald Trump, who campaigns in strangely captivating punk poetry, offers that in spades. Hillary, who campaigns in instruction manual prose, promises four or eight years of soporific competence. Ultimately one has to presume (if only to avoid a devastating breakdown) that the US will resist the mischievous imp on its shoulder, whispering, “Go on, have some fun, elect the tangerine huckster and see where it leads.”

But fasten your seatbelts, as another legendarily tough old broad, Bette Davis, is often misquoted as saying in All About Eve. It’s going to be bumpy ride.

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