Many Democrats are tied in knots over the presidential campaign, afraid not just of saying the wrong thing but even thinking it.
In sum: they’re tired of Hillary Clinton, her baggage and her style, but they dread nothing more than the thought of a Republican in the White House and remain convinced that Clinton has the best chance of winning in 2016.
It’s not as if Clinton is wrong on substance, having steered a reasonably progressive course. Even the issues on which she was once weak - from gay marriage to the Keystone pipeline - have been cleaned up recently, either out of conviction or political necessity, which are easily conflated in modern campaigns.
Yet, she rouses little real passion among most supporters. (Opponents, on the other hand, are fiercely passionate in disliking her, which can’t be a good sign.)
Democrats look at the 2016 playing field and the knot they feel gets tighter. After electing the nation’s first black president, the timing couldn’t possibly be better to finally put a woman in office. The very thought of smashing the presidency’s glass ceiling should be enough to have volunteers lined up for blocks, ready to spread the word about Hillary Clinton.
Instead, those feeling true passion are writing checks to Bernie Sanders, knowing deep down that he can’t win. Or, they’re clinging to the notion that Elizabeth Warren will step in, knowing full well that she won’t.
The prospect of a Joe Biden candidacy isn’t helping Democrats clear their heads. Would he damage Clinton enough so neither would win? Is he too old? Is he gaffe prone? Does he even want the job? It’s hard to have enthusiasm for a guy who doesn’t seem to have much himself.
Democrats look across the aisle and see the very disarray they dreamed of. They see a band of “outsiders,” mucking up debates, hogging the talk shows, teasing the pollsters and siphoning off campaign contributions - with little chance of surviving until the convention in July. It’s a scenario made for Democrats - which only tightens the knot of conflict over Clinton’s candidacy.
In 2008 I watched an army of volunteers trudging across Nevada and other battleground states, ringing doorbells and wooing voters for Barack Obama. It all appeared genuine, easily generated and exhilarating.
A similar wave of emotion prompted the commentator Chris Matthews to say, after hearing Obama speak in 2008, “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I don’t have that too often.” It was an awful choice of words, but easy to understand.
Where’s the thrill in Hillary Clinton’s campaign? It’s not evident on the stump or in strained talk show interviews, weighed down by marginally important email accusations and exhaustively-analyzed questions about Benghazi. Even a nifty sketch like “Val” the bartender on “Saturday Night Live,” did more to embellish Kate McKinnon’s comedic resume than boost Clinton’s already-tired candidacy.
All this leaves many Democrats holding their breath. Clinton would probably make a good president, they conclude - a better chief executive than campaigner.
It’s still very early. There’s plenty of time to raise questions, to raise money and to raise a winning campaign. It’s just so much harder when you can’t raise passion.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker