Home/ Opinion / Online-views/  Hillary Clinton is already a brand

Hillary Clinton enlisted a Coca-Cola marketing whiz to help brand her presidential campaign.

This is quintessential Clinton. The most politically savvy couple in America has a penchant for seeking out the latest shiny toy, a magic bullet to make everything work.

By many accounts, the Coca-Cola executive, Wendy Clark, is able. She has worked closely with Roy Spence, a longtime Clinton ally. But more than branding or marketing, it’ll be experience, ideas, vision and character that will determine the success of Clinton’s presidential quest. The Clintons usually don’t do well when they lose sight of that.

Their most infamous miscalculation of this kind was in late 1994, when in the depths of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the couple secretly turned to a political consultant named Dick Morris to fix things. He came up with a bunch of small bore issues and then told the press Clinton would run as a moral guide for the country.

This recasting had little bearing on Clinton’s re-election in 1996. In any case, Morris wasn’t around to enjoy that triumph: He had to step down after he was found to have hosted a call girl in a Washington hotel room paid for by the Clinton campaign, and had let his companion listen to his conversations with the president.

There are plenty of other examples, though they are more benign.

After a rocky start in the White House, Bill Clinton enlisted a smart veteran Republican, David Gergen, as a cure-all. It was mismatch from the get-go. The Clintons later turned to self-help promoter and motivational pitchman Tony Robbins.

This time around, there are reports that Hillary Clinton was ecstatic when pollster Joel Benenson joined her team, believing that he would bring the secret formula that helped catapult Barack Obama. Benenson is very capable, but he didn’t perform magic and he isn’t any better than Geoff Garin, who was Clinton’s pollster in 2008.

In fact, the former secretary of state made the most important hire in the form of John Podesta, the veteran Democratic operative, who will be her campaign chairman. He is the Democrats’ equivalent of Jim Baker—the legendary Republican in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations—with unsurpassed judgment and potentially the ability to bring order to the unwieldy Clinton constellation and talk to the candidate, and her spouse, as a semi-peer.

Podesta appreciates the need to bring in fresh faces such as Benenson and maybe Clark. One of the flaws of the 2008 Clinton campaign was its insularity.

Another major—and even bigger—shortcoming was that she followed the advice of chief strategist Mark Penn for her to run as a tough commander-in-chief who supported the Iraq War. The tactic, which de-emphasized her gender, was a misreading of the times. Obama, who defeated her, understood that.

This time Hillary Clinton is expected to strongly stress on women’s issues and the gender angle. She’s been a feminist her entire adult life; the only difficulty here would be if the effort looks too contrived.

All campaigns adapt or tweak their pitch to meet political realities. In 2008, Obama didn’t really oppose gay marriage, and one wonders if Jeb Bush really believes the Iraq War was such a noble undertaking, as he suggested in a recent speech in Chicago.

Clinton will also adjust. But as she tries to convey a vision for governing, she’s going to have to run as who she is: smart, if not especially innovative; disciplined; experienced in the ways of Washington and the world; hawkish on national security (witness her leading role in the military intervention in Libya in 2011, and her support for the Iraq War in 2002); and moderately liberal on domestic issues with a bit of a soft spot for Wall Street.

No amount of rebranding will change those basics. Bloomberg

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Updated: 13 Apr 2015, 11:49 AM IST
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