Hillary: All fizzle and no sizzle

Armstrong Williams | 6/30/2016, 9:47 a.m.
“All sizzle and no steak,” is a long-standing American idiom denoting someone who is full of style and flash but ...
Hillary Clinton at the CNN Democratic Debate at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Tuesday, October 13, 2015. Adam Rose/CNN

“All sizzle and no steak,” is a long-standing American idiom denoting someone who is full of style and flash but lacks substance. What about the opposite—all steak and no sizzle? Well, that might be OK. At least you’re getting a steak. But Hillary Clinton’s campaign of late may be a case of the worst of both worlds: all fizzle and no sizzle.

Although Donald Trump has had some recent stumbles, there is no doubt about one thing. Among likely voters, the Trump brand sizzles.

Despite failing to unify the Republican Party going into the convention and lagging Clinton in fundraising by a mile, Trump is still polling strongly. Under normal circumstances a candidate trailing so far behind in the money race would be all but dead in the water going into the general election.

How could this persistence possibly be? Clinton is by far the more skilled politician and should ostensibly benefit from the tailwind created by a popular two-term Democratic presidential incumbent.

On its surface the math is pretty simple: Trump leads among all white prospective voters, and he leads by double digits among white males. Clinton leads among white females, but not by as large a margin as Trump leads among white males. Clinton carries the so-called minority vote by a landslide.This core calculus is not likely to change significantly before the election, and so it will come down to whose voters turn out more passionately.

If Trump’s performance in the Republican primary is any indication of how he will perform among his constituency in the election, he can expect a strong showing from his base. Clinton, on the other hand, has struggled with the mobilization game. Although ultimately victorious, she floundered in some state Democratic nomination contests against a left-flank insurgency from Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Clinton campaign has yet to negotiate a truce in the internecine battle between party officials and Sanders delegates. Although Clinton has likely clinched the nomination, she hasn’t emerged unscathed. One wonders if she can generate enough unity—and momentum—coming out of the Democratic Convention to withstand a Trump train that, although slightly off track, continues to gather steam among voters.

The Clinton camp has voiced concerns that the presumptive Democrat nominee can generate passion among the Democratic base, and, perhaps more importantly, win over fence-sitting independents and undecided voters. The problem comes down to one thing: likeability. People respect Clinton or they loathe her, but they are not passionate about her. Her tepid campaigning style isn’t winning many raving fans.

Her campaign has not found a way to grow her likeability, although staffers are obviously aware of the problem and have said so openly. Instead, they’ve essentially started circling their wagons for now, sending out multiple television ads and fundraising emails attacking Trump. Trump’s likeability is also low among significant segments of the electorate, but it’s hard to see Clinton winning a battle of the uglies. Trump has openly embraced the role of the spoiler and seems to revel in upsetting the status quo. Clinton has to get more traction from people who actually like her, rather than from those who merely dislike Trump, and that’s going to be difficult for her going forward.