It's all so silly, really. At least I think so. It just seems pretty clear to me, especially since I have absolutely no inside information, no scientific information, no polls, nothing. But I do pay attention. We're talking about the campaign.
Number one: is it a problem for Hillary that she is essentially unopposed so far? It's an unfamiliar situation to the pols and pundits, so they say she needs opposition to sharpen her game. Well, no, I don't think so. If she's not sharp by this time after all her political life and campaigning, she's not going to be. One or two warmups and she should be sinking three-pointers if she ever could.
Second, though, think about this. What do you do when you are running in the primary? You have to calculate your angles so you get the nomination, please this faction and that faction who are the activist voters in the primary. Then you have to reset your positions for the general election, as Mitt Romney's campaign manager so usefully told us in 2012. Well, she won't have to do that particular pirouette. She can hone her positions from the start to please her “base” enough to excite, and to go to the general without having to disavow anything she said, and in so doing appear “political,” untrustworthy and unprincipled, which is a common suspicion with Hillary. She avoids pot holes.
Third: her problems are likability and her inability to fire up a crowd, to inspire, to come across well in public. Fine. Those are her problems. A professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at Cal told me in 2007 or so that she would never be President because she's a Methodist, and I think this set of problems is what he meant. She might down shots at a bowling alley in central Pennsylvania, but is she someone you would like to have a beer with? I dunno, maybe. I don't think Methodists drink much. But I think if she is to be likable, doing a primary race isn't going to help with that. There's a better opportunity to be likable when some of the pressure is off, when you are running a campaign without an opponent who you have to jab, when you can appear and make your case while the other side is in flux.
Clearly, likability isn't her strength. And as Dahlia Lithwick said, people are already tired of her and she hasn't done anything yet. So what should she do?
I think she needs to capitalize on what she is good at, and maybe it will spill over into her Methodist problem. She is smart. She doesn't seem to be very visionary, but she is smart and she is knowledgeable and she is wonky. She could be a competent President. THIS IS EXACTLY THE TIME TO DRIVE THIS HOME! And the absence of Democratic opposition gives her the opportunity.
She needs to go deep into issues, and show how good she is. Pick out about seven or eight issues, not just a couple. She can concentrate on just a couple later on. But right now she can go into things she cares about and knows, and she doesn't have to cater to the current whims of the populace and address what they are concerned about now. The idea isn't to line up votes by agreement with issues – I doubt that happens so much anyway – the point is to show how competent she is, how experienced, how much she knows. The opposition won't have a chance to do that, they will be too focused on out-maneuvering one another. So while they throw elbows at one another, she can be very presidential.
Oddly enough, I would wager that this tack would actually make her more likable. Maybe not beer-buddy likable, but likable for her seriousness, for her caring, for the respect she shows the American people in treating them as adults. In the end you are who you are, and the more you cop to that, the better off you are.
Anyway, that's my idea. Better than anything Mark Penn ever came up with.