The reality is that Bill Clinton is an overrated surrogate who has almost always been more of a cinder block than a sail for Democrats he’s campaigned for. He dazzles on the stump, but the glow from his charisma has never redounded to anyone other than himself. It’s like asking the sun to make it rain. Making other people look good is not Bill Clinton’s jam.
As far back his first term in the White House, Democrats suffered catastrophic losses in the 1994 midterm elections — losing 54 House seats, eight Senate seats and 10 governors mansions.
Two years later
, Clinton won re-election, but his fellow Democrats weren’t all so lucky. They picked up two House seats, but also lost two Senate seats. In Arkansas, Clinton’s successor as governor was forced to resign after a Whitewater- related felony conviction. Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee became governor instead.
By 2000, after the Monica Lewinsky affair and a disastrous impeachment effort from Republicans, Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, lost his own bid for the White House, even as Bill Clinton rode into the sunset with 70-plus percent approval ratings. He entered private life, but continued to joyously campaign for Democrats across the country whenever they called. The love was rarely transferable.
In 2008, when Hillary Clinton ran for president, her campaign dispatched her husband to reach voters they worried wouldn’t go for Hillary without a nudge from Bill. But in state after state where Bubba was supposed to be the secret weapon (think the entire Deep South) his wife lost — by a lot.
His latest bust was in 2014, when a slew of former Clinton associates, all Democrats, were on the ballot in Arkansas. His former driver was running for governor. His political mentor’s son was up for re-election to the Senate. His old Federal Emergency Management Agency chief was running for House, as was one of his earliest supporters for president. He went on eight “Billgramages” to Arkansas to campaign for the ticket, only for them all to lose by 10 points or more.
It wasn’t his fault that these people lost, but he never saved them from defeat, either.
It’s true that Hillary Clinton will never have the political deftness of her husband, but really, who cares? She doesn’t need to keep dropping her “g’s” in Iowa to convince people she’s just as folksy as Bill. We all know she’s not. But she has something more important in many ways, which is a stack of detailed policies to respond to real people’s lives in an imperfect world.
She acknowledges that people have parents with Alzheimer’s and children with autism. She has a plan for new graduates with lots of loans and new parents trying to figure out how to have two jobs with one kid and why nobody told them it was going to be this hard. She knows enough to frame the gun debate in the worried conversations of young mothers who hear for the first time their 6-year-old had a shelter-in-place drill at elementary school “in case the bad guys come.”
None of this has anything to do with a man who was president 20 years ago, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign shouldn’t either.
With her last campaign unfolding in front of her, I would give Clinton the same advice she’s probably gotten at many other points in her life for many different reasons: Hillary, you’re better off without him. You can do this on your own.