You might not think anymore that, after last night’s Democratic Presidential Debate, that the nomination of Hillary Clinton is a foregone conclusion. As NBC’s Chuck Todd tweeted, if you didn’t know who each candidate was going into it, you would have thought Bernie Sanders was the frontrunner.
Realistically, I still believe Hillary Clinton will win the nomination. She’s got too much money and power behind her, even if the electorate is lukewarm about her.
The Republicans are in a free fall when it comes to the general election, unless someone like Marco Rubio emerges as a frontrunner. As it stands now, Donald Trump is leading the polls and he has a very loyal and outspoken fan base. But it’s a base that will not expand come the general election.
But the thing that stood out to me in last night’s debate was the power of deep-seated beliefs. It’s the reason why Trump leads the Republicans and why Sanders also has a feverish voter base. Watching the debate, even if you disagree with many of Sanders’ ideas, you have to be impressed with his passion.
People want to follow leaders who have strong beliefs, especially if they agree with your own at a root level. If you think about it, the appeal of Trump and Sanders is nearly the same: That a certain segment of the US population has been left out of the national decision-making process.
It’s just that the segments are defined differently by each of these candidates. Trump is giving voice to those conservative (mostly white) Americans who feel powerless in the face of congressional and politically correct gridlock. Sanders is giving voice to those liberal (mostly young) Americans who feel they have fewer opportunities than previous generations did.
The point isn’t whether what those audiences believe is true (and they might be). It’s that they are believed.
What does Hillary Clinton believe?
The problem facing Hillary Clinton is that no one is quite sure what she believes. She has a stellar track record as Secretary of State. Even noted hawk Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Bush and Obama (in the first administration), gave kudos to Clinton is his memoir “Duty.”
Clinton, though, doesn’t inspire passion among voters because we don’t know what she truly believes, other than that she wants to be President (and maybe feels entitled to it).
But as the 2008 election showed, even when Hillary Clinton is the presumptive favorite, she can overcome by someone with a more passionate belief system. Last night’s debate just showed that this race is far from over.