The Survivor: Clinton outlasted the Benghazi committee, the latest iteration of a time-honored Washington tradition

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr

Lance Cole, Penn State’s director of the Center for Government Law and Public Policy Studies at Dickinson Law, is featured in this article at U.S. News and World Report. Below is an excerpt of the piece:

Lance Cole

Lance Cole

“When it comes to the House Benghazi enterprise, ‘To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” ‘ says Lance Cole, who runs the Center for Government Law and Public Policy Studies at Penn State University’s Dickinson Law School. Given the muddle of congressional investigations, maybe it’s apt that he uses a Yogi-ism that Berra both denied ever saying but also took credit for later in life. ‘There’s a Clinton running for president and a Republican committee in Congress releasing a report aimed at destroying a Clinton,’ says Cole.

“He speaks with a certain sense of history. He was deputy special counsel for the minority Democrats on the mid-1990s Special Committee to Investigate Whitewater Development Corporation and Related Matters that was run by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs led by then-New York Republican Sen. Al D’Amato.”

Read more at U.S. News and World Report.

Where does Donald Trump fall on the electability scale?

Donald Trump speaks at a December 2015 campaign stop at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Donald Trump speaks at a December 2015 campaign stop at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Christopher Beem | Managing Director of the Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy


As Donald Trump continues to make mincemeat of the Republican primary, the question arises: Will he do the same in the general election? Will he pummel his Democratic opponent, too, or will his strong negatives—i.e., his foolish behavior and chronic predilection to make outrageous statements—render him “unelectable?”

There used to be lots of ways for a candidate to be termed unelectable. But most of them are long in our past.

Christopher Beem

Christopher Beem

In 1924, Al Smith became the first Catholic to win the Democratic nomination for president.  But so many Americans believed that his religion constituted an allegiance to a foreign political power (the Pope), that the election was effectively over before it began.

Of course, after Kennedy, Catholicism ceased to be a disqualifier in American politics. The same happened to Judaism, race or ethnicity, and gender. Though all of these certainly used to make a candidate unelectable, none of them do so today.

There are some forms of identity that still remain broadly unacceptable. Before the campaign began, in June 2015, a Gallup poll showed that large minorities of Americans were disinclined to vote for candidates who were Muslim (38 percent said no), atheist (40 percent) or socialist (50 percent).

A few months later, many Americans are voting for Bernie Sanders, who is not only a Jew (and a non-practicing one to boot), but also a socialist. So here is further evidence that these former taboos are vanishing.

Sanders receives astonishing majorities among young voters. And those same voters are least likely to see any of these three as being reason enough not to vote for someone. Only 25 percent of young voters would reject a candidate who was atheist, 24 percent a Muslim candidate and 31 percent a socialist candidate. That means that as the body politic ages, even these last holdouts are likely to disappear—and thus, perhaps too, the very idea of someone being inherently unelectable.

But unelectability is not just a matter of identity. It is also a matter of behavior. Americans expect that their presidents act, well, presidential. Until the early 20th century, for example, it was considered undignified for one to appear too eager for the office, so candidates did not campaign. In fact, they did not even show up at the nominating convention.

This conceit, too, is long gone, but the idea that candidates must meet behavioral standards remains. In 1984, for example, accusations regarding Gary Hart’s personal life derailed his 1984 presidential campaign.

So, what about 2016? Given that Trump’s behavior is so breathtakingly unpresidential, is there reason to think that the electorate might judge him unelectable as well?

No doubt, a wide swath of citizens reject his candidacy outright. An NBC poll in December showed that about half of voters would be embarrassed to have Trump as their president. Among Latinos, that number is much higher (over 80 percent). I would expect similar numbers among other groups that Trump has maligned, including Muslims, African Americans, and the disabled.

What about young people? Are they as willing to ignore behavioral standards as they are those based on identity? Do they care that the Republican frontrunner mocked a disabled person, calls his opponents schoolyard names, and refers to his manhood during a presidential debate?

Maybe not. But young people are far more concerned about the impact of hate speech, that is, speech that disparages or intimidates. A survey published in October by Yale University found that over half of college students think their school should forbid people from speaking who have a history of hate speech.

Since Trump is exhibit A for these kinds of insults, it is probable that these young people, too, are likely to reject his candidacy. But this number is not as large as it might seem. Exit polling shows that Trump is at least holding his own with young Republicans, and in some states he is the leading candidate.

So, while there are many groups who reject Trump’s behavior and therefore his candidacy, it is hardly certain that the nation at large will do so. But our electorate is split down the middle. If enough young people, disabled persons, Mexicans and Muslims—not to mention Americans who prefer that their president act like an adult—decide that Trump is unelectable, it might be enough to tip the partisan balance, and keep him out of the White House.

Clinton’s place in history a long time coming

Hillary Clinton speaks at a January 2016 campaign stop at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Hillary Clinton speaks at a January 2016 campaign stop at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo Credit: Matt A.J./Flickr

Nichola D. Gutgold | Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Schreyer Honors College Associate Dean for Academics 


Recently, Frank Bruni of The New York Times noted that Hillary Clinton is “preternaturally determined, resourceful and patient. It was a relatively positive column in a primary season of so much vitriol that the bright side can be difficult to see.

Nichola Gutgold

Nichola Gutgold

“Hillary Haters” are pointing to the ongoing Clinton drama. “Hillary Lovers” are rejoicing that she will be recognized for her historic presidential bid. I believe that it is good for all Americans to note that Hillary Clinton’s bid — whether it is a winning or losing one — is tremendous progress, simply because she is a front runner who has significant foreign affairs experience and most importantly for a female candidate, one who no one doubts would be tough enough to be president.

A quick review of two other notable female presidential candidates who made it to their political conventions reminds us that this particular moment in history has been a long time coming.

Margaret Chase Smith
At the Cow Palace in San Francisco on July 15, 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, the reserved Republican senator from Maine who made a bid for the presidency, was greeted with cheers from a reception of supporters who declared: “She is still in the race!”

Vermont Senator George Aiken nominated her at the convention, and one admirer noted, “Every woman, Republican and Democrat, owes a debt of gratitude to Margaret Chase Smith because she has opened the door for a woman to serve in the presidency.” By the end of the convention, Margaret Chase Smith came in second with 27 delegates. She offered advice to future candidates when she said, “If I were to run again, I would organize every state and go for the delegates at least two years in advance.”

Shirley Chisholm
Eight years later, a New York congresswoman — the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm — received 151 of the delegates’ votes at the convention in Miami. She wanted to effect political change with the power of her delegates.

At a speech she said: “I’m just so thankful that in spite of the differences of opinions, the differences of ideology, and even sometimes within the women’s movement the differences of approaches, that here we are today at a glorious gathering of women in Miami.”

Hillary Clinton
Fast-forward to 2008. Hillary Clinton had her name placed in nomination at the Democratic National Convention. By doing so, Barack Obama honored her remarkable achievement, recognizing precedence for this, and paying a proper tribute. In addition, the 18 million voters who chose Clinton deserved the recognition.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton almost won the nomination. That is something no other woman in American political history has come close to accomplishing.

A woman could be president
In a poll I conducted of college-age women in 2009, more than 65 percent of the students believed that the 2008 presidential bid of Hillary Clinton made them think that a woman would be president in her lifetime. Whether a person is for or against a candidate, the presence of an outsider encouraged members of the same group to believe that it is possible for that person to become elected.

After eight years in the White House as first lady and nearly eight years as senator from New York, she served as secretary of state. Whether you are a “Hillary Lover” or a “Hillary Hater,” it is undeniable that her bid for the presidency has given presidential politics a major shove forward, something that’s easy to forget amid the rancor. After her impressive Super Tuesday win, she is likely to be the democratic nominee at the convention in Philadelphia.

Whether you are for her or against her, it is difficult to deny the historical magnitude of her successful strides. It’s good for all Americans to revel in the undeniable progress.

Nichola D. Gutgold, professor of communication arts and sciences, researches the rhetoric of women in non-traditional fields and is currently revising and updating her 2006 book, “Paving the Way for Madam President” to include the 2008 and 2016 election years.

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