If Hillary Clinton is elected today, as I expect she will be, this will have come about perhaps more than we recognize because she has been what I call a "good candidate." This is a label I've applied to quite a few aspirants for office, including some I disagree with or disapprove of more than I do of Clinton -- for example, Anthony Weiner.
So for the heck of it I am going to enumerate on this election day just why I mentally call Clinton a "good candidate."
- She wants the job. She acts as if out of an absolute conviction that she is the person the country and the institution of the presidency needs. This conviction is a little crazy, but winners at whatever level have to have it. Many candidates don't have it or can't sustain it. I've worked for several office seekers who didn't allow themselves that utter self-certainty and they were not as good candidates as those who dared it. In this race, nothing less would have provided the grit to hold up under the abuse -- abuse she certainly knew went with seeking the job.
- She and her team made a plan and stuck with it. From within, even low level campaigns consist of an annoying, almost constant, series of unforeseen eruptions and emergencies. At every turn, well-wishers and hangers-on urge the candidate and staff to change course to meet the immediate disruption. Some of these challenges may even require a response. But winning usually demands staying with the plan and letting the latest distraction roll off your back. This is true, even if the disruption is real and the plan imperfect. An imperfect but solid plan beats no plan every time. The Clinton campaign has seemed to know that.
- She has demonstrated she knows how wide reaching her campaign's tent had to become. This may not be so obvious to those of us who are not instinctive Clinton fans, but she won the nomination by attracting and holding the allegiance of regular Democratic Party stalwarts, especially African Americans and other leaders of color, over decades of work on Democratic policy issues. Bernie could win many outsiders and some newcomers to Democratic politics, but she had the regular base from the get-go. And then she extended her coalition outward quite successfully to pick up people who could be drawn in. The resulting agglomeration will almost certainly be fractious and demanding (and inevitably not satisfied) but for one electoral moment, she got the scale right and built a coalition base to win. Ezra Klein has pointed out that winning by building a coalition is very much a woman's way to prevail -- and that perhaps gendered expectations of leadership by pure charisma makes it hard for us to see this as high political skill.
- Democrats have built up terrific voter data and Hillary Clinton's campaign believed in using it. She does deserve some credit for this. The email nonsense revealed that she really had no grasp of contemporary technology. But she, or the people she hired to manage the mechanics of her campaign, seem to have taken advantage of every analytical possibility that understanding the electorate offers. This is where the candidate can get in the campaign's way. It certainly looked as if she knew enough to leave decisions to the data crew about how to use available resources to target people and regions. If only she can be so smart about running the executive branch ...
- She used surrogates gracefully. It takes an awful lot of ego to run for office. Knowing that she is not a figure who inspires, she seems to have been comfortable with having people out on the campaign trail for her who could upstage her -- not just entertainers and such, but even the sitting President and his popular spouse. It's worth remembering, for example, that in 2000, Al Gore refused the help of a far more popular predecessor than Obama is today. Perhaps this particular "good candidate" trait is also a gendered instinct.