For devotees of the Trump-as-savior narrative, Clinton -- and all the allegedly nefarious forces at her beck and call -- was a uniquely formidable opponent. Defeating her required a different kind of Republican, one who'd be willing to fight as dirty and as tough as the
Others on the right see it differently. It wasn't so much that Trump was the one person who could beat Clinton, but that she was the one candidate he could beat. In other words, it was only thanks to the fact that she was so unpopular that Trump had a chance. Trump-reluctant
The latter seems vastly more plausible for the simple reason that Trump didn't have to convince those voters that Clinton was unlikable and a little scary; he simply had to exploit their pre-existing opinion of her. Indeed, Trump's continued obsession with bashing Clinton points to how central she is to his identity.
This has consequences for 2020 because the
It may not be all that hard, though, because the
And here is where I think Clinton's true historical significance isn't being recognized. Again, conservatives (including yours truly) invested a lot of time and energy in shaping public perceptions of Clinton. But the blame -- or credit -- doesn't just go to the right. Clinton herself did much to help the effort. She was never the natural politician her husband was. She lacked his gift for reading the electorate and speaking to voters' concerns. She collected all of her husband's baggage without any of her husband's skill at deflecting criticism. She wasn't very likable.
This was a huge advantage for
If the Clinton machine had not scared away more talented and resourceful politicians from running in 2016, it's possible that someone other than Sanders would have captured the passion of the party, just as Obama did when he toppled Hillary as the inevitable nominee in 2008.
But that didn't happen, and as a result, the Democratic Party got the message that Sanders-style socialist populism was the key to success, just as the
Sanders' frustration at no longer being the undisputed voice of the base is palpable. "They said our ideas are crazy and wild and extreme," he recently complained. "And now it turns out all of the other candidates are saying what we said four years ago."
Of course, there are larger historical forces at work here, but it sure looks like
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