Chris Burn: Hillary's tough challenge to win trust of a nation

SHE is seemingly on the way to creating history by becoming the first female president in the history of the United States, but there is little excitement or anticipation at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton White House.
Hillary Clinton.Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton.

Many of her voters seem more motivated by stopping Donald Trump than putting Hillary in charge – a theme reflected in her own campaign advertisements that typically highlight the outrageous comments made by her Republican opponent rather than focusing on any of her achievements or policy positions.

So what it is that Americans don’t like about Hillary?

There is a common theme among the voters, political experts and journalists I have spoken to in Washington DC this week – people just don’t trust the Democratic nominee.

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All sorts of different reasons are offered for this – ranging from the continuing revelations about the use of a private email server that handled sensitive government messages to dismissive remarks about women ‘who stayed home and baked cookies and made teas’ instead of pursuing a career. But there is little doubt that Trump’s repeated attempts to paint his opponent as ‘Crooked’ Hillary have met with some success.

Even on the streets of the Democratic stronghold of Washington many people repeated back Trump attack lines as they explained their reasons for not liking Hillary – labelling her as everything from ‘scary’, ‘very dishonest’, ‘impossible to vote for’ to even ‘dirty to the core’.

Steven Ginsberg, senior politics editor at the Washington Post, believes the latest developments in the FBI investigation into Clinton’s private emails will not prevent her getting to the White House.

He said: “For some people there is just something fishy about the way she conducts herself. You can never quite prove it, a lot of people have tried. But that feeling persists. The email situation is a great example. She set up a system outside the normal system. One-and-a-half-years ago, one of her aides’ husband, who has his own legal problems, seems to have had access to those emails. It just doesn’t feel right.

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“There are a lot of factors. One is she is a woman. Some people are still uncomfortable with that. She is a pioneer – some people get bothered by that. She had a new model of being a First Lady, she is a different kind of politician.

“There are famous quotes from the 90s where she was very dismissive of women who stayed home and baked cookies.

“The emails are indicative of a kind of approach to Government that people feel like she sees herself as above it and outside of it.”

He said that while Trump is often caught out lying, he appears to the public to be a more straightforward character than Clinton.

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“Even though in a single day you can identify 25 things Donald Trump says that aren’t true, they think he is candid about it and she is hiding something,” he said.

Clinton also has the problem of being perceived as a candidate representing the status quo in a country where millions feel the system is letting them down.

Patrick Butler, vice-president of programmes for the International Centre for Journalists, said: “In a year when people are looking for something different, she is the same old, same old. She is seen as a lifetime politician, the establishment.

“A lot of people, even Democrats, see her as establishment. Bernie Sanders got much more support than anybody anticipated.

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“This is a year when people want to shake things up. She is also a woman and I think there is a lot of sexism there.

“She is not a great campaigner. She doesn’t excite people.”

Another issue concerning voters is the perception of her as more hawkish than Obama, a politician more willing to intervene in foreign conflicts in contrast to Trump’s apparent commitment to a more isolationist strategy in which America steps back from viewing itself as the protector of the free world.

Even those intending to vote for Clinton are struggling to generate much enthusiasm for her campaign, partly down to her lack of natural charisma.

Young people who have grown up in the era of Barack Obama are trying to muster similar devotion to Hillary, but are finding it difficult to do so.

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One thing is clear – if Clinton does become president, she faces an unprecedented challenge in uniting the country. Polls show 97 per cent of Trump supporters have an unfavourable opinion of her, with 66 per cent of white people and 37 per cent of non-whites feeling the same.

But Patrick Butler believes there may be some hope for Hillary if and when she reaches the Oval Office – based on the way she has managed to turn around previous perceptions of her. “Her poll numbers tend to be low when running for office and high when she is in,” he said.

But, for now, Hillary Clinton is trying to make the most of the strongest card in her favour to see her over the line – her outrageous opponent.

Chris Burn is a correspondent on the Sheffield Star.