Here We Go Again: Media Say Clinton’s Winning, But Not Winning The Right Way

“She is an awful candidate. Everybody knows it.”

That’s how Matthew Dowd summed up Hillary Clinton on this Sunday’s This Week on ABC. Reviewing the state of the 2016 White House campaign and insisting that Clinton is deeply flawed, Dowd deepened his critique: “She's an awful candidate. She's not liked. She's not trusted. The positive for her is she's running against a worse candidate in the course of it.”

Clinton’s an “awful” candidate, yet she amassed more votes than anyone else running in the Democratic and Republican primaries, she currently holds a commanding lead over Donald Trump, and she might rewrite the electoral map by flipping some dependably red states blue. 

That’s a very unusual election equation.

Dowd isn’t alone in his peculiar appraisal. As the prospects of a Clinton victory loom larger this year, more pundits seem to be trying to explain why her historic victory wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Why it might not be that meaningful, and how Clinton might just luck her way into the White House, no matter how commanding her potential margin of victory is.  

The commentary trend is rather remarkable considering that in 2000, Republican George W. Bush not only lost the popular vote, but had to be hand-selected by the Supreme Court to become the next president. Yet Clinton is the one facing a possibly depleted victory?

Indeed, Clinton’s alternately portrayed as boring and uninspiring, overly aggressive and widely disliked, or sleepwalking through history like a modern day Chauncey the Gardener.

New rule: Clinton not only has to win. She has to win a certain way.

According to a recent report by Maeve Reston, Clinton’s definitely not winning the right way. Reston announced the 2016 election cycle lacks any “inspiration,” in part because so many voters “can’t stand either candidate.” According to Reston, the campaign is void of the “joy and even the sweeping rhetoric that drove voters to the polls” in previous campaigns -- like when George W. Bush pushed for “compassionate conservatism.”

Doesn’t everyone recall Bush’s sweeping rhetoric in 2000?

Insisting that Clinton “barely escaped indictment over her use of a personal email server as secretary of state” -- which isn’t true, many legal scholar signaled long ago she’d never be indicted -- Reston interviewed some voters who expressed low opinions of Clinton. “I used to admire her. She's obviously a very intelligent woman,” said one voter who claimed Clinton “has done things that are illegal, and she's gotten away with it because of who she is. People have covered up for her.”

Those last three claims are false, false, and false. But none of them were challenged by CNN. So in a report that stressed how Clinton is unpopular, CNN didn’t correct falsehoods about Clinton; falsehoods that likely add to the reason of why some voters don’t like her.

Last month, NPR’s Domenico Montanaro announced, “Clinton Is Lucky She's Running Against Trump.” Why is Clinton lucky? Because the uninspiring candidate is allegedly so disliked by voters who view her with simmering contempt that there’s no way she could beat any other Republican candidate.

This remains a popular pundit theme: Clinton’s only leading the polls because Trump’s such a bad candidate. And of course Republicans would normally be favored to win in 2016. (Question: If Trump’s such a crummy candidate, how did he easily defeat 16 opponents during the GOP primary?) But it seems to me that when a Democrat is up seven points in a state like Georgia -- which hasn’t voted for a Democratic president in two decades -- that can’t all be dismissed with she-has-a-flawed-opponent analysis.

Meanwhile, remember back in May when Clinton locked up the Kentucky Democratic primary contest and Politico marked the event with the headline, “Hillary Clinton’s Joyless Victory”? Earlier that month, Politico published “How Hillary Could Win the Election—and Lose the Country,” which suggested the Democrat might be elected as a “kind of default president.”

Nothing condescending there, right?

You’ll recall that the preferred storyline through much of the primary season was that Clinton wasn’t inspiring voters the way Bernie Sanders was. That, despite the fact a March Gallup poll found Clinton supporters were among the most enthusiastic this campaign season.

And then there’s the mandate chatter. Considered by the press to be perhaps the ultimate prize, mythical mandates are only awarded to candidates who secure overwhelming victories. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus suggested the mandate crown could be elusive for Clinton because, in his eyes, she’s focusing too much on Trump:

But it comes with a potential cost. By focusing on the other guy’s flaws, Clinton may fail to build a strong mandate for her agenda, including higher taxes for upper-income earners, a $275 billion infrastructure program and comprehensive immigration reform.

Even if Clinton wins by a very large margin she won’t have won a mandate because she talked about her opponent too much during the campaign? Since when has that been the campaign template for achieving a mandate?

McManus continued:

Republicans in Congress (depending on how many survive) will be able to claim that Clinton won the White House only because the GOP nominated the wrong candidate, and that the American people aren’t on board with her proposals — some of which they might not even know about. 

The argument seems unfounded -- since when do Americans elect the person they don’t want to be president? Tens of millions are voters are going to cast their vote for the person they don’t support? But McManus says Republicans “will be able” to make that claim -- in part because journalists like McManus are already making it!

All of this comes across as a rather a heavy-handed attempt to preemptively deduct points from Clinton’s possible win. Which brings us to Vanity Fair and its recent entry into the genre: “Why Hillary Clinton Could Win in November, But Only Serve One Term; Experts Predict A Short-Lived Victory For the Former Secretary of State.”

That’s right, facing the prospects of a Clinton victory in 2016, some in the press are already mapping out her re-election defeat in 2020.

After all, she’s an “awful” candidate, right?