by Charles M. Blow
President Obama is fond of saying that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to ever seek the presidency. And, if current polls are correct and prove resilient, she will be one of the most qualified people to be elected and ascend to that office.
But one of the great ironies of this election is that America’s first female president may be viewed by many as the country’s most invalid president, hanging under the specter of suspicion, mistrust and illegitimacy.
This is partly because her opponents all along the way have complained that the system — from the media to the electoral apparatus — was “rigged” and unfairly tilted in her favor, and it’s partly because of unflattering bits of information that have come to light from an illegal hack.
During the primaries, Bernie Sanders (who now supports Clinton) made very clear that he thought that both the media and the Democratic Party itself had not been fair to him. As he put it, “We knew we were taking on the establishment.”
This became a motif of his revolution, and a force corrosive to voters’ confidence in the primary process. A March Pew report found a striking decline in Democrats’ trust in their nominating process:
“Democrats and Republicans differ on whether the presidential primaries are a good way of determining the best-qualified nominees. Currently, 42 percent of Republican voters have a positive view of the primary process, compared with 30 percent of Democrats. The share of Democrats expressing a positive view of the primary process has declined 22 percentage points,” from 52 percent in February 2008. “Republicans’ views are little different than in 2000 or 2008.”
In early May, Sanders said at a rally:
“When we talk about a rigged system, it’s also important to understand how the Democratic Convention works. We have won, at this point, 45 percent of pledged delegates, but we have only earned 7 percent of superdelegates.”
In late May, Sanders reversed course on the system being “rigged” on “Face the Nation,” saying:
“What has upset me, and what I think is — I wouldn’t use the word rigged, because we knew what the words were — but what is really dumb is that you have closed primaries, like in New York State, where three million people who are Democrats or Republicans could not participate, where you have a situation where over 400 superdelegates came on board Clinton’s campaign before anybody else was in the race, eight months before the first vote was cast.
Blogs like Vox and FiveThirtyEight tried to debunk the rigging claims, saying essentially that while some rules worked against Sanders, others worked in his favor, and in the end he simply lost because he got fewer votes. But still, the “rigged” idea stuck.
This idea was buttressed by WikiLeaks’ release of hacked emails that showed that some in the Democratic National Committee displayed an open disdain for Sanders and, as The New York Times reported, “showed party officials conspiring to sabotage” his campaign.
Whereas the foundation of Sanders’s objections were at least based on real issues, even though many were by no means new to this cycle, Donald Trump’s sermonizing about rigging is constructed of wild conspiracy and conjecture.
Trump has been on a tear for weeks about the general election being “rigged,” and apparently that message is sinking in among a large portion of his supporters, just as it sank in among a large portion of Democratic primary voters.
An NBC/SurveyMonkey poll released Friday found that 45 percent of Republicans definitely wouldn’t or were unlikely to accept the result of the election if their candidate lost, compared to 30 percent of Independents and 16 percent of Democrats who felt the same.
At this point, it’s not even clear if Trump would graciously concede if he lost. Indeed, grace may be beyond his grasp.
And while there are signs that Clinton is narrowing the enthusiasm gap with Trump, my sense is that Clinton’s current success is as much a repudiation of Trump’s abhorrence as it is an embrace of Clinton. It feels to me more like exhaustion than exhilaration.
We could be on the verge of something historic. So, why does it feel so much like acquiescence? Why aren’t more people rushing to the polls to vote for this immensely qualified woman rather than rushing to vote against this woefully unqualified man? One of the reasons is that her male opponents have successfully cast the race she may win as rigged.
I think it’s fair to say our electoral processes aren’t perfect. But they’ve never been. Nor has any candidate been perfect. So why must those imperfections be nullifying at the very moment that a woman is on the verge of victory? Clinton is a woman beating men at their own game. Deal with it.
Still, this all means that a potential Hillary Clinton administration could commence under a cloud and against a chill wind. It could be a first, but one met with a frost. Revolutionary acts come at a cost.
(This column originally appeared in the New York Times OCT 24, 2016 under the title “Clinton’s Specter of Illegitimacy”)
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”