Apr 14, 2015

Will evangelicals love Hillary Clinton in 2016?

Evangelicals didn't respond to Hillary Clinton with much warmth during her first presidential campaign.

According to Christianity Today in 2008:
From all sides of the political spectrum, evangelicals respond with a surprising amount of disgust upon hearing Hillary's name.  
Clinton, like every big-name political figure, has admittedly said and done things that have polarized, offended, and simply gotten under our skin. Her public persona, a brand of East Coast liberalism with roots in '60s radical politics, strikes many Americans as uppity and unapproachable. Open talk about her personal faith in recent years strikes some as politically convenient.
Will it be different this time?

Clinton and her team have put a lot of energy into appearing more relatable, approachable, and human. Going into the 2016 campaign, there's a major effort to humanize Clinton's image.

"Operatives who have been building her second presidential campaign," Ruby Cramer and Megan Apper report at Buzzfeed, "have conjured up words like 'intimate' and 'informal' to describe the 'tone' of the 'first 100 days.' They talk about retail politicking, the hardworking, old-fashioned way."

Part of what that means, apparently, is news stories about Clinton doing something normal, like eating a burrito in Maumee, Ohio, and not getting noticed. And then getting noticed for not getting noticed.

Another part of that project is showing Clinton as a person of faith, but a faith that is relatable for its quiet everydayness. The suggestion is that if she doesn't talk frequently or openly about her religious commitments, that's because -- exactly like evangelicals and middle class Americans more generally -- she is uncomfortable politicizing it. Faith, she feels, shouldn't be so strategic.

It's a tricky political strategy.

These efforts to emphasize the normalizes of a candidate can have the unintended effect of calling attention to how the "natural" persona is so carefully and politically crafted.

But if Clinton will struggle with the dehumanizing side effects of attempting to hold up and value her basic humanness, she's not the only one. It was evangelicals' commitment to valuing human life that allowed them to think of Clinton an not-really-human. The contradiction there was perhaps best captured in the fortune cookies passed out by the Family Research Council at a Republican convention. The political message inside said, "#1 reason to ban human cloning: Hillary Clinton."

For the editors of Christianity Today, the 2008 Clinton campaign was a moment of evangelical shame:
While pundits see candidates as punching bags, evangelicals are supposed to see candidates as, well, people. As we ponder how candidates are 'fearfully and wonderfully made,' we may haltingly come to realize that the most bold and courageous thing we each could do this election season, no matter who we vote for, is this: Love Hillary.
Will that happen in 2016? Probably not, but time will tell.