Hillary Clinton tries to shake off ‘likability’ problem

The Democrat’s failure to fully acknowledge the email controversy is just one barrier

 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts as she hugs actors Sally Field (left)  and Elizabeth Banks  during a “Women for Hillary” event in Culver City, California. Photograph:  Mike Blake/Reuters

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts as she hugs actors Sally Field (left) and Elizabeth Banks during a “Women for Hillary” event in Culver City, California. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

 

This is a town where scripts routinely come back to writers from entertainment executives with the same command about a female character: “Make her more likable.” As Hillary Clinton fights up and down California to fend off Bernie Sanders and clinch the nomination, Democrats watch with clenched teeth.

Sure, the Republicans are engaged in a hilarious performance of The Taming of the Shrew with their tart-tongued presumptive nominee.

But can plodding Hillary be, as Barack Obama famously put it, likable enough? Or does it even matter? Hollywood’s most famous icon of likability thinks not. “Over the past months, I have heard the word likability used so frequently,” Sally Field said on Friday at a Hillary rally here at a community college. “How Hillary Clinton is not likable. How she’s cold or shrill or an opportunist or just not someone you’d like to have a beer with. What is this? A high school popularity contest?”

Needy moments

But Field, one of several actresses and women pols warming up the crowd for Hillary, was determined to make the case that unpopularity shouldn’t be disqualifying – especially for a woman.

“We don’t need someone who is nice,” she said. “And c’mon. Honestly. Women have spent the last 100 years trying to get out from under the expectation that they had to be sugar and spice and everything nice. We don’t need sugar and spice and everything nice.”

This is not an election where anyone needs to worry about an overdose of sugar and spice and everything nice. This is an election of vinegar and venom and endless nests of vipers.

You would think Clinton would be used to manoeuvring in a political landscape where the mud is flying. But it took her a year, several speechwriters and the example of Elizabeth Warren to figure out how to riposte Donald Trump’s peculiar combination of viciousness and playfulness.

Absurd

You have to lob his own jejunosity back at him. In a Trump takedown billed as a foreign policy address in San Diego on Thursday, she scored several points. Noting that he picked fights with everyone from the British prime minister to the pope, she mocked: “He says he doesn’t need to listen to our generals or our admirals or our ambassadors and other high officials because he has, quote, ‘a very good brain’.”

After floundering, her campaign has settled on painting the mogul as unhinged and thin-skinned, which always really gets under his thin skin. “It’s no small thing,” Hillary said, “when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons, and said this about a war between Japan and North Korea – and I quote – ‘If they do, they do. Good luck. Enjoy yourself, folks.’ I wonder if he even realises he’s even talking about nuclear war.”

With its typical arrogance, Clintonworld can go too far. Madeleine Albright, who specialises in being unhelpfully helpful, dismissed the email controversy on CNN: “She has said she made a mistake and nobody is going to die as a result of anything that happened on emails.” That, of course, is an open invitation for Trump to recall that many did die in the Iraq War that Clinton voted for and that the email imbroglio represented reckless judgment on her part.

She has not forthrightly taken responsibility or explained how she could stonewall the State Department inspector general.

Rejected

As usual with Hillary, she clearly feels the only problem was that people found out. It undercuts her claims that Trump is reckless when she can’t fathom how reckless she was. She made a really good speech in San Diego. But even if she dispatches Sanders on Tuesday, Trump isn’t going to be easy.

Given the slurs and punches and eggs and salacious, hellacious stuff flying around, this could be the wildest, meanest election in modern history.

Just look at Friday alone. Trump was on a tarmac in Redding, California, recounting a story about a black “great guy” who slugged a protester at a prior rally. He interrupted himself to point at a random black supporter in the crowd, saying: “Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him.”

This followed an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which Trump was unyielding in his insistence that he was not being racist when he said the judge presiding in a lawsuit over Trump University was biased because “he’s a Mexican” and “we’re building a wall between here and Mexico”.

‘Proud of his heritage’

The latest instalment comes more than a week after a nutty attack on New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez forced Paul Ryan, who had finally dragged himself over to Trump a day earlier, to start skittering away again.

Naturally, Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame – the musical about the founding father Alex Hamilton – provided the perfect kicker for the week in a new Rolling Stone interview.

He said this election is “no more bizarre than the election in 1800 wherein Jefferson accused Adams of being a hermaphrodite”.

Adams responded by spreading rumors “that Jefferson died so that Adams would be the only viable candidate. He was counting on news to travel slow! That, weirdly, gives me hope.”

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