September 28th, 2020


Can Hillary do in 2016 what Reagan did in 1980?

George Will

By George Will

Published July 26, 2016

Can Hillary do in 2016 what Reagan did in 1980?

En route to fight one of his many duels, French politician Georges Clemenceau bought a one-way train ticket. Was he pessimistic? "Not at all. I always use my opponent's return ticket for the trip back." Some Hillary Clinton advisers, although not that serene, think her victory is probable and can be assured.
Her challenge is analogous to Ronald Reagan's in 1980, when voters were even more intensely dissatisfied than they now are. There were hostages in Iran and stagflation's "misery index" (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates) was 21.98.

By August 1979, 84 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track. A substantial majority did not want to re-elect Jimmy Carter but a majority might do so unless convinced that Reagan would be a safe choice. Reagan's campaign responded by buying time for several half-hour televised speeches and other ads stressing his humdrum competence.
Now, voters reluctant to support the unpleasant and unprepared Republican also flinch from Clinton, partly because of the intimacy the modern presidency forces upon them: As one Clinton adviser uneasily notes, a president spends more time in the average family's living room than anyone who is not a family member. Clinton is not a congenial guest.
Her opponent radiates anger, and America has not elected an angry president since Andrew Jackson, long before television brought presidents into everyone's living room, where anger is discomfiting. Clinton's campaign must find ways to present her as more likable than she seems and more likable than her adversary, both of which are low thresholds. Regarding the threshold that matters most — 270 electoral votes — she would not trade places with her opponent.

Since 1976, Florida, today's largest swing state, has been somewhat more Republican than the nation.  Clinton now is in a statistical tie there (in the Real Clear Politics average of polls), where the Hispanic vote is growing and moving left. She leads in Virginia, the third-largest swing state (behind Ohio), by RCP's 5.3 points and in another purple state, Colorado, by 8 points.
One state that might indicate a tectonic shift in American politics is Arizona, which has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate only once since Harry Truman in 1948 (Bill Clinton in 1996, by 2.2 points). In 2012, Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama there by 9 points.
Today, however, John McCain's sixth Senate campaign may be becoming his most difficult. His trademark has been "straight talk" but now he must mumble evasions about the man at the top of the Republican ticket who has disparaged McCain's war service. McCain, who has won his five previous elections by an average of 33.4 points, today leads in the RCP average by 5.5.
If Clinton, who is in another statistical tie in Arizona, decides to compete there, one reason will be the Mormons. They are just 5 percent of the state population, but 8 percent of the general election turnout.