It is almost universally accepted that Hillary Clinton was a disastrously bad nominee in 2016, and the denunciations of her ring through the pages of this website. It’s all rubbish.
Ms. Clinton was not a bad nominee; indeed, she was perhaps the most qualified Presidential candidate to ever appear on the ballot. There has not been a single President who had served as Secretary of State in over 150 years. In all of American history, only 16 Presidents had experience as Senators. And no Presidential candidate could boast eight years experience at the heart of American politics in the White House. This lady had far more political experience than any other Presidential candidate since at least the Civil War.
She won the Most Admired Woman position in the Gallup poll 22 times — a stupendous record. In second position was Eleanor Roosevelt with only 13 wins, then Margaret Thatcher with 6. Ms. Clinton was phenomenally popular. Even the most admired man, President Eisenhower, won only 12 times. Can you think of ANYBODY who has been so widely admired over a span of more than twenty years?
Ms. Clinton was also the most diligent of Presidential candidates. This lady was a policy wonk, deeply familiar with every issue. During the debates, did you notice how easily she spun off facts and figures to support her assertions? Did you plow through the lengthy platform statements on her website? Gadzooks, they went on and on; I couldn’t get through the whole pile. I have no doubt that she was personally involved in every page, because she freely quoted from that material in the debates.
Criticisms of Ms. Clinton
Ms. Clinton has always been a centrist, seeking to find the middle ground between warring factions. This was an important factor in her success as Secretary of State, but in the intensely polarized political world of 2016, being a centrist made her the target for the fanatics on both sides of the political spectrum.
The right has always had it in for Ms. Clinton. Back in the 1990s they quickly recognized her enormous political potential, and so they set to work slinging mud at every possible turn. The Clintons have been the subject of more investigations than any politicians in American history (other than the many recent investigations of Mr. Trump). There have been eight major investigations; the Starr investigation extended over seven years. Over $80 million was spent on these investigations. Not one of them produced any judgements against the Clintons, although Bill Clinton did privately settle with Paula Jones — certainly no aspersion on Ms. Clinton. Two of their associates did go to jail.
Many of the accusations leveled against Ms. Clinton were patently absurd. For example, she has been accused of murdering Vince Foster, and despite the firmly established fact that he committed suicide, that accusation continues to reappear. Then there was the story about her running a child sex ring in the basement of a pizza restaurant — a risible accusation that got an amazing amount of coverage. The National Enquirer published a stream of absurd false stories about Ms. Clinton. There’s also this investigative report from the Weekly World News:
The Republican strategy was clear: sling mud at Ms. Clinton all the time, and some of it will stick, regardless of the fact that it’s all false. Millions of Americans fell for it.
The left has its own criticisms of Ms. Clinton, the most serious of which is that she accepted contributions from big financial institutions. This is certainly a problematic issue. On the one hand, we would prefer that all candidates refuse to accept any campaign contributions from corporations. On the other hand, large corporations provide about half of all the money spent on political campaigns. (see the first table on this page). To turn down corporate contributions would cripple most political campaigns. There have been some surprising contradictions of the general rule, most strikingly the campaign of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. But Presidential campaigns are expensive operations, and candidates must make difficult choices. Critics of Ms. Clinton apparently don’t realize that, while she did play by the rules of the game, she placed high priority on changing those rules: her platform included a promise that she would immediately upon taking office initiate a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
But the left’s primary criticism of Ms. Clinton is that she is too centrist. The left would have preferred Mr. Sanders as the Democratic nominee. There is a huge amount of commentary on the web regarding the hypothetical question: “Would Mr. Sanders have beaten Mr. Trump?” It would be easy to produce a long list of citations to support either side of this question. The problem is that they are all speculative in nature; there just isn’t any good data to work with. The best data we have is a group of polls taken during the primaries; they all show Mr. Sanders beating Mr. Trump by a wide margin.
But we face three problems applying those early polls to the election six months later. First, during the primaries the Republican Party was fractured; after the nomination, Republican tribal loyalties kicked in, the “Anybody but Trump” movement evaporated, and all the Republicans dutifully fell in line behind Mr. Trump. The poll results from the primaries do not reflect this phenomenon.
Second, the Republicans had treated Mr. Sanders with kid gloves because they considered Ms. Clinton to pose the more serious threat. Indeed, some Republicans expressed the hope that Mr. Sanders would win the primaries, in the expectation that he would be easier to defeat in November. Had Mr. Sanders won the nomination, the sophisticated Republican Mudslinging Machine would have swung into action, painting him as a Commie Terrorist Big Government Bad Guy. Had Mr. Sanders been subjected to as much mudslinging as Ms. Clinton, I doubt that he would have fared as well as he did during the primaries.
Third, the polls had special problems with the 2016 elections. Remember, all the polls showed Ms. Clinton winning handily. There are still lots of questions about what really happened in 2016, but I don’t think that we can confidently conclude that Mr. Sanders would prevailed where Ms. Clinton lost. It’s possible, but the evidence just isn’t clear enough on this point.
Why have Democrats turned on Ms. Clinton so viciously? I suspect that part of the problem is the common American belief that winners are admirable and losers are despicable. Since she lost the election, she must have been a bad candidate. The fact that she got 3 million more votes than Mr. Trump doesn’t matter — she was a bad candidate. The fact that the election itself was suspect doesn’t matter — it was her fault. The fact that the Russians definitely interfered to support Mr. Trump doesn’t matter — it was all her fault.
The truth is that Ms. Clinton was the finest candidate we have seen in a long time. She would have made a good President, although the obstructionist Republican Congress would have hamstrung her the same way that they hamstrung Mr. Obama. Perhaps, in the long historical view, it was necessary to get Mr. Trump’s atrocious performance to ultimately lead to a Democratic President and Congress in 2020. Still, there is one absolutely undeniable fact: this country would have been a LOT better off with a President Hillary Clinton than a President Donald Trump.