Much has been made of the supposition that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most unlikeable presidential candidates in modern electoral history. In May, Harry Enten of the FiveThirtyEight blog posted a piece entitled Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking. In it, he wrote:
“No past candidate comes close to Clinton, and especially Trump, in terms of engendering strong dislike…No major party nominee before Clinton or Trump had a double-digit net negative ‘strong favorability’ rating. Clinton’s would be the lowest ever, except for Trump.”
Though I appreciate the data underpinning the observations of Nate Silver’s staff writer, it would be a mistake to call the popularity contest (a race to the bottom) between candidates a scientific exercise. For I can think of many reasons behind Clinton’s Q rating struggles that have nothing to do with her actual policies and record. She’s endured 25 years of scandal and controversy, both real and imagined, which have poisoned the well for some voters. A professed policy wonk, Clinton also suffers from an acute lack of the charisma that propelled her husband’s career, and most certainly that of current POTUS Barack Obama. And you know, she’s a woman.
Some profess weariness with regard to claims of media and public sexism toward the Clinton campaign. They want to pretend that all of Clinton’s challenges relate to policy and personal character. These people are usually men. Party affiliation and place on the liberal/conservative spectrum are often irrelevant when it comes to misogyny. One of the most glaring and disappointing features of this election cycle is the gender-based vitriol from some of my liberal brothers. I wrote of the frustration immediately following DNC 2016. You’re tired of hearing about it, guys? Not as tired as women are of watching and listening to this garbage.
So with polls tightening and Clinton continuing to grapple with unlikeability, the last two weeks have been extra rough. The completely annoying Pnuemoniagate drew renewed attention to Clinton’s supposed “habit of secrecy.” As if picking between ratcheting up Team Trump’s death dialogue, or being accused of dishonesty were any choice at all. But even before the faint heard round the world last Sunday, she was already dealing with fallout from the poetically apt “basket of deplorables” comment. A red herring controversy if there ever was one. Allow me to quote Slate’s Chief Political Correspondent Jamelle Bouie:
“We can debate whether this is blindness or denial, but the data is clear: Large numbers of white Americans hold anti-black or racially resentful views, and for a substantial portion, those views are politically salient….Donald Trump did not win the Republican presidential primary because he out-organized or out-campaigned his competitors; he won because he played directly to those views, and Republican elites refused to challenge him.
The dismay over Clinton’s comments—the insistence that it represents some kind of insult and not a statement of truth—reflects the degree to which many of our reporters and observers still shy away from these facts.”
Hillary Clinton has to be so careful with everything she says, every look that she gives, it’s quite a marvel she’s avoided agoraphobia over three decades of public service. The pressure and double standards would cause others to crack. But Hillary is nothing if not a fighter and she also has a not-so-secret weapon in her arsenal: POTUS.
In the final weeks before November 8, Team Clinton has vowed to focus on positive messages, pivoting away from haranguing Trump – however deserved. But as she recovered at home from pneumonia this week, Barack Obama had no problem stepping up in her absence. He’s been forcefully critical of Trump throughout campaign season. Earlier this week he reminded America of exactly why he won two terms and continues to enjoy high approval ratings.
The President told an adoring Philadelphia crowd that he “really, really, really want[s] to elect Hillary Clinton.” Dismissing discussion about Clinton’s supposed frail health, as well as the media’s perverse and continued assertion of false candidate equivalency, Obama said:
“You want to debate who’s more fit to be President? One candidate has traveled to more countries than any other Secretary of State has. Has more qualifications than any candidate in history. And the other who isn’t fit in any way shape or form to represent this country abroad or to be its Commander in Chief.”
POTUS said a lot more during an articulate and pointed critique of Trump and his party, a group that “used to be opposed to Russia and authoritarianism and fighting for freedom. Now their nominee is out there praising a guy, saying he’s a strong leader, because he invades smaller countries, jails his opponents.”
President Obama has nothing to lose by speaking his truth – and ours. He’s not running for office. He’s on his way to becoming another ordinary citizen, one with a moral conscience and clarity that finds the apparently unshakable Clinton double standards troubling given the stakes. The different set of rules encompassing what constitutes an insult (“basket of deplorables” versus “Pocahontas?”), the “transparency” hypocrisy when Trump is as opaque as it gets, and more. It’s more than frustrating. It’s absurd. And it deserves to be highlighted as often as possible.
Thank you, Mr. President.