Hillary Clinton: The poster girl of the 2016 United States election
OPINION: 'Kiwi in New York' Danielle McLaughlin writes that if Hilary Clinton can avoid a scandal - new, old or imagined - America might finally choose a female head of state in November.
On Tuesday, June 7 at about 10.27pm East Coast time, Hillary Clinton stepped on to a stage in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and declared herself the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. The Navy Yard is a sprawling and historic complex just north of the Brooklyn Bridge. The USS. Missouri was built there (the battleship on which the Japanese surrendered in World War II). Now it's condos, a whiskey distillery, artists' studios, and warehouse event spaces. Hipsters flock there. It's just down the road from Clinton's national campaign headquarters.
I was at home. My young daughter was asleep in her crib. If she was older than just 17 months, I would have kept her up to be a part of the moment. The cheering for Clinton was so loud I wondered if I might hear it if I stepped onto my balcony and into the warm late-spring evening air. Magnanimous and beaming, Clinton placed her achievement along an arc of barrier-breaking achievements. She acknowledged American suffragists, civil rights leaders, the lessons of her mother. She congratulated her primaries rival Bernie Sanders and urged Democrats to unite.
JOHN COWIE/ FAIRFAX NZ
Clinton's announcement is backed up by overwhelming numbers. By the time she stepped on to that warehouse stage, she had bested Sanders by more than three million votes, 13.5 million to 10.5 million. On Wednesday morning, after the numbers came in from Tuesday's six primary races, it was clear that Clinton had won the two biggest prizes, California and New Jersey, by a landslide. By more than 600,000 votes. Tallying up the campaigns to date, Clinton leads Sanders by about 900 delegates. She has won 32 contests to his 23. By comparison, by the time Clinton capitulated to Barack Obama in 2008, he was leading her by only 305 delegates and fewer than 200,000 votes. She had led him in the popular vote for almost the entire primary race.
It was a rout. And yet, Sanders took to a stage in California much later, in the wee small hours. Hunched over the lectern. His fist raised at times. He told supporters, "the struggle continues". Many ardent Clinton supporters were shocked that Sanders would not exit the race with no path to the nomination, on an historic night for his worthy opponent (and frankly, for all women in the US). But analysing the transcript of his speech the next morning, it was clear that Sanders has, in fact, started the transition out of the race, emotionally and intellectually. He's now fighting for the ideas his campaign stands for. In all honesty, there is nowhere else for him to go.
Some of his supporters remain resistant to the inevitability of Clinton. I experienced that first-hand the day before in a studio at Fox News. I was purportedly on set to talk about the enormous "free media" advantage Donald Trump has enjoyed. This year, bombast and belligerence have attracted viewers to this reality TV election. It sometimes seems that ideas and policies have not. Rather than discussing free media, a Sanders supporter and long-time political operative spat the words "Benghazi", "private email server", "Iraq war", "enabler", and "Wall Street speeches" at me. Reasons why Clinton is still deeply unpopular with some Democrats. Reasons that have varying degrees of merit and truth. I told him he was putting words in Trump's mouth.
Trump also took to the lectern on Tuesday night. He read from a teleprompter at the Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff Manor, New York (where else?). He made a clumsy move for Sanders' supporters, saying the system was "rigged" against them. In fact, under the current rules, there has never been a Democratic presidential nominee who didn't win the popular primary vote. Clinton won the popular primary vote. So Trump was wrong, but truth has never seemed to matter to him.
He called Clinton a career politician, wedded to special interests. He announced himself as a "fighter" for Americans. And he seemed to want to assure the Republican leadership that he understood "the responsibility of carrying the mantle" of the nomination. Now, Trump's normal mode of communication is to shoot from the hip. He speaks at rallies accompanied by just one, lonely piece of paper, covered in notes in his heavy, all-caps scrawl. In interviews, he "answers" in equivocations. Ducking and diving like the late Muhammad Ali in the ring, but without the heart or conviction. In front of a teleprompter, Trump looked like a rich businessman reading someone else's political speech. Funny that. One commentator likened his performance to that of a "tranquillised circus lion".
Then came Thursday. In the late morning, Obama and Sanders met in the White House. Obama extended obvious courtesies to him, including a walk along the famous colonnade to the Oval Office. It's a privilege normally limited to heads of state. They talked, and Sanders left. Later, Sanders addressed reporters, reading from a typed statement. He said he would fight on. Just hours later, in the early afternoon, the Clinton campaign released a video. Obama's endorsement of Clinton. Filmed on Tuesday, before the results of those six primaries came in. There is no question that the President told Sanders in that meeting that his endorsement was landing that day.
So where to from here?
Sanders is in the grieving process. After his massive loss in California there was likely shock and denial. He travelled home to Burlington, Vermont on Wednesday to reflect and regroup. Some of his supporters are angry. Lashing out at journalists. Using the anti-Clinton playbook the Republicans wrote. He gave a rally in Washington, DC on Thursday. Passionate and resolute, before another large crowd. He goes on, but it seems likely that he will finally suspend his campaign on Tuesday of next week, once the Washington DC primary (that he'll almost certainly lose) is over.
And Trump? Trump is the wild card. The "circus lion" that is, more often than not, running around untranquillised. He's readying to go for the Clinton jugular on her decades in public life. You could say a life devoted to public service was a good thing, but Trump will not. His latest line of attack is the accusation that both Clintons turned "the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves", making "hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favours, selling government contracts." But Trump's obsession with the idea that Clinton is bought and paid for will likely come back to bite him. He needs a billion dollars to fund his presidential campaign. So he'll be spending a great deal of time with his hand out to big donors in the coming months. He'll run into a pot/kettle conundrum sooner rather than later. And as for self-interest, this man has made a campaign platform out of telling the American public how he used the tax code, the bankruptcy laws, civil law suits and the immigration laws to his own advantage. Why would that stop if he became president?
Hillary Clinton has probably had the best week of her life. She has secured an historic nomination. Cemented her place in world history: from political spouse, to senator, to secretary of state, to presidential nominee. And the most important endorsements, with the exception of Sanders', have started flowing. Obama and the first lady, vice-president Joe Biden, and prominent and popular democrats like Elizabeth Warren have announced their support this week. They will now fan out across the country in support of her presidency. She might take a moment to breathe. To marvel at what she has achieved. By all accounts though, she's an extremely hard worker. So perhaps there is no breathing room built into this week's schedule.
The general election isn't until November. Five months is a very long time in US presidential politics, particularly in a year where there is so much unpredictability. It's a fool's errand to make predictions in a political atmosphere like this. But if Trump continues to behave in this manner, if Republicans cannot find a way to rally around him, and if Clinton avoids scandal, new or old, real or imagined, America might finally chose a female head of state on Tuesday, November 8. I'll keep my daughter up late for that.
* Expat Kiwi Danielle McLaughlin, a Manhattan lawyer and American TV political commentator, is the Sunday Star-Times' correspondent in the USA.
- Sunday Star Times