Hillary Clinton’s status as a wealthy celebrity will make it difficult for her to deploy the populist narrative that helped Democratic nominees win the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections. How can a woman who boasts a net worth of at least $21 million and hobnobs almost exclusively with well-heeled financial titans and movie stars, plausibly denounce Republicans as the party of the rapacious rich while portraying Democrats as defenders of the downtrodden?
The only presidential election since 1988 in which the Democrat failed to win more votes than his GOP rival came with the victory of George W. Bush in 2004. In that year, the donkey party chose patrician John Kerry, whose marriage to Teresa Heinz provided an estimated net worth of $750 million and made him, arguably, the richest candidate ever nominated by either party. Republican attacks on the Massachusetts Senator as effete, elite and out of touch took their toll: remember the devastating ad that mocked his indulgence in wind-surfing?
In other recent contests, Democrats did better at portraying themselves as representatives of common folk. The 1992 battle between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton came across as The Preppy vs. The Hillbilly, or the blue-blooded son of a US Senator against the posthumous child of a hard-drinking traveling salesman. Four years later, Bob Dole’s 36 years in Congress eclipsed his own hardscrabble background; President Clinton, still just four years away from Little Rock, seemed far more connected with middle-American life.
This column appeared at TRUTHREVOLT.ORG on December 28, 2014.