by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a column that starts with meditations on Donald Trump’s latest outrage, Jonah Goldberg eventually shifts to an interesting discussion of the potential showdown between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential race.
For months I’ve argued that Jeb Bush is the weakest of the top-tier candidates to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton. When you have a competition between two brands, the better brand tends to win. The Clinton brand is simply much more popular than the Bush brand, for reasons we all know.
And that’s still true. But a brand is also strongest in the abstract. A Clinton may beat a Bush, but voters won’t be asked to vote for “a Clinton,” they’ll be asked to vote for a specific Clinton, namely Hillary. Jeb’s last name is a problem he can transcend by being himself. Hillary’s last name is an asset she damages whenever she’s herself.
We saw something similar with John Kerry in 2004. People liked Kerry in the abstract — military veteran, long-serving senator, etc. — but as a person, not so much. His state poll numbers would often go down when he campaigned and go up when he went on vacation. Clinton is extremely popular when she is an abstraction. The polls show that the more voters see the real person, the less they like her — or trust her. …
… The point is that personality matters a lot, and no one would confuse Clinton’s personality for a secret weapon. It’s been a cliché for three decades for Clinton’s defenders to say, “If only you could know the Hillary I know.” That’s an unintentionally damning defense. It may be true that she’s a wonderful friend to her friends, but as a candidate, she is a remarkably uninspiring, un-charming and un-compelling woman who has every bit as much of a problem connecting to ordinary people as Mitt Romney did. Indeed, like Romney, she has polled poorly (June, CNN) on the question of whether she “cares about people like you.”
In truth, Bush is not a contender for the role of the “Most Interesting Man in the World” in those Dos Equis commercials, either. But he is showing himself to be a grown-up who is neither easily rattled nor interested in pandering to the crowd. He can get ahead of his family name in a way Clinton clearly cannot. Moreover, nearly all of the other GOP contenders have transparently better retail political skills than Clinton does.
Donald Trump stakes much of his fortune on the alleged value of the Trump brand. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy rests on a similar assumption about the Clinton name. Both fail to take into account the fact that personality trumps brand.