07/21/2016 12:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hillary's Campaign Is In Big Trouble


Democratic primary voters, who chose Hillary Clinton because they believed she was the most electable Democrat against Donald Trump, may be in for a rude awakening. They may have picked the least electable Democrat and placed the country and the world in jeopardy of a proto-fascist President Trump.

Very simply, the Clinton campaign is in big trouble. And Hillary seems on the verge of compounding the problem by choosing a boring, corporate centrist running mate like Tim Kaine or Tom Vilsack, who will only emphasize the status quo nature of her candidacy, rather than a populist like Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown who could put some energy and enthusiasm into her directionless campaign.

I really don't want to be writing a "woulda, coulda, shoulda" column about why Bernie Sanders would have been more electable. At this stage I'd rather be making the argument that, for all her political and character flaws, Hillary is still preferable to Donald Trump and that progressives should be doing everything possible to prevent Trump's election, which means critically supporting Hillary. But there's no avoiding the painful truth that Hillary is in danger of losing.

Going into the Republican Convention, and right before a week of Hillary-bashing, Nate Silver wrote that Clinton's lead "is as safe as Kerry's was in 2004". According to Silver's models, Clinton leads Trump by 3-4 points, down from 6-7 points a few weeks ago. John Kerry went into his convention with a 3 point lead over Bush, but ended up losing.

Even more troubling is the deeper polling in a Washington Post article headlined "The Continuing Political Decline of Hillary Clinton." According to the article, "it's hard to overstate just how bad Clinton's numbers are. And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll is the latest to suggest they just keep getting worse -- so much so that they are in some ways about as bad as Trump's."

57 percent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of Clinton and 47 percent have a "strongly unfavorable view". The "Strongly unfavorable" view hit a new high. And by 72-21 percent voters think that Clinton is "too willing to bend the rules." Per The Post, "either way you slice it, Clinton's image is as bad or worse as it has ever been." Meanwhile Trump's unfavorable ratings are 49 percent, a statistical tie with Clinton's.

If there's a glimmer of hope for Clinton in the poll numbers, it's that a "mere" 42 percent think Clinton isn't qualified to be president, while 58 percent think that Trump is unqualified. So if the election comes down to who appears more "presidential," Clinton might prevail.

But when asked which candidate could bring "the needed change to Washington," Trump leads by 11 points, 50-39 percent. So if this is a change election, there's a good chance that Trump wins.

And beyond the anecdotal, one poll number strongly points to a change election: Only 28 percent of voters think the country is going in the right direction which 68 percent think it's going in the wrong direction.

In a year in which there's tremendous fear and angst across the land, Democrats picked the personification of a status quo candidate in Clinton. In that context, Hillary's 35 years in public life -- as first lady of Arkansas and the U.S., Senator from New York, and Secretary of State -- may be more of a liability than an asset. She personifies what Bernie Sanders has called" establishment politics and establishment economics," despite her platform concessions to the Sanders forces.

The Republican establishment was so weak and compromised that a colorful, bellicose outsider like Trump could push it aside and stage a successful hostile takeover of the Republican Party.

The Democratic establishment also face a serious outsider challenge, with Bernie Sanders getting about 44 percent of the pledged delegates against the vaunted Clinton Democratic machine. But with a Democratic president in office, who's popular with Democrats, and a series of rules that, if not "stacked", were clearly intended to make an insurgent campaign difficult to succeed, Hillary squeaked through. The Democratic establishment got what it thought it wanted in a candidate who is the very embodiment of the status quo. And in a year in which voters are clamoring for change, that may have been a big miscalculation.

Moreover, although Republican attacks on Hillary go way overboard ("lock her up"; "Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi"; she's responsible for the deaths of innocent youths at the hands of undocumented immigrants) there's plenty left that makes voters' lack of trust for Hillary plausible.

She does seem to lack core principles, instead putting her finger to the wind and holding focus groups to decide on her political positions. She was for every past trade deal, including TPP, until she flipped to opposing TPP, but her delegates still wouldn't vote to put opposition to TPP in the Democratic platform. She was for the Keystone Pipeline until she changed to opposing it in the Democratic primaries. She was for a $12 minimum wage until she conceded to the Sanders forces in accepting $15.

Most of both Clintons' political careers has been about moving the Democratic party away from its New Deal roots to the corporate center, so her 11:59 conversion to more Sanders-like positions on certain issues hardly makes her credible as a bold progressive.

Despite Sanders having given Clinton a pass on her emails, there are some serious failings on her part. Republican chants of "lock her up" are way over the top and maybe even politically counter-productive. The FBI Director correctly concluded that there was insufficient basis for a criminal prosecution.

But the likeliest explanation for Secretary Clinton using her personal server for State Department business is that she was afraid that politically embarrassing emails might become public. In storing official State Department data on a server in her Chappaqua home, she did put them in greater danger of being hacked. It's not out of bounds to say that Hillary may have risked national security to protect her personal self-interest in privacy.

In my view, Bernie gave Hillary too easy a pass on the emails during the primaries. The Republicans were bound to come after her with all guns blazing and better that she would have been ready -- or if voters concerns were too great, even that the issue led to Bernie prevailing in the Democratic primaries.

And as I've previously written, there has been a soft corruption to the Clintons. The over $130 million earned in speaking fees earned by Bill and Hillary since 2000, often from Wall Street, give the appearance of being payments for services rendered or to be rendered. The Clinton Foundation has taken multi-million contributions from corrupt foreign governments and oligarchs, helping them gain positive publicity for often ill-gotten gains.

Status quo politics, soft corruption -- all of this gives Donald Trump a chance of prevailing in the fall, despite his own low popularity ratings.

It doesn't mean that Trump should win. Trump is a racist, xenophobic, misogynist who has played to the darkest, and even proto-fascist, elements in America. I shutter with fear and loathing watching the Republican convention.

And Trump is even more corrupt and dishonest than Clinton: telling so many lies that the fact checkers can't keep up; changing positions several times a day; building his businesses by cheating contractors and workers; using bankruptcy to line his pocket while fleecing lenders. Trumps dishonesty, narcissism, and instability makes Hillary seem like a choir girl.

Trump must be defeated. In Weimar Germany, parties of the left and center were so busy fighting each other, that they allowed Hitler to come to power, and we know how that worked out. For that reason, despite Hillary Clinton's manifest flaws, I will do everything I can to help Hillary defeat Trump for the Presidency, even while working to institutionalize and make the political revolution embodied by Sanders permanent.

It would be a lot easier if Hillary would make a VP pick that would energize her voters to go to the polls, someone like Elizabeth Warren who, I've described in a previous Huffington Post piece, as the LeBron James of American politics, a true super star.

But as of this writing, cautious Hillary seems determined to go with a boring, cautious corporate centrist like Kaine of Vlisack, which will only make the task of defeating Trump even more difficult.

In this anti-status quo year, caution is dangerous and audacity is actually the safer course.