The Pundits Who Underestimated Hillary Clinton Are Paying For It Now

For the entire year-plus that Hillary Clinton has been running for president, the conventional wisdom has held that she's not very good at it. At a Democratic primary debate last March, Clinton said: "I am not a natural politician." People think she isn't particularly "likable," that she isn't relatable or fun, and that she gives boring speeches. She is considered a weak candidate, winning through a superior campaign apparatus, insider support, and a weak opponent in Donald Trump.

But in the wake of a third straight debate in which Clinton crushed her opponent and probably guaranteed herself the presidency at last, it's worth looking at the past year and a half of her campaign and wondering if that conventional wisdom isn't so wise.

I think it's wrong. Because ever since Clinton announced her candidacy on June 13, 2015, the moments that have pushed her ahead have been those when, for just an instance, America paid attention to what she had to say. When the focus of the nation has been on Clinton herself speaking, in debates or in speeches, she crushes it.

In September 2015, early in the Democratic primary, Clinton was in what Nate Silver described as a "Poll-Deflating Feedback Loop" — she was losing ground to Bernie Sanders, her private email server was heavily in the news, and rumors grew of Joe Biden entering the race against her. All three combined for a month of negative coverage of her campaign. She came to the debate on October 13 with four opponents all gunning for her, trying to end her frontrunner status.

Clinton comfortably held her own as four men aimed for the queen and missed. Her poll numbers jumped by 4.5 percent in the week following the debate, and continued climbing afterward. Within a week of the debate, Jim Webb dropped out of the race, and Lincoln Chafee followed just three days later. Despite entering the debate with Americans expecting to dislike her, she left it in stride.

There have only been two times in the general election when Trump was ahead of Clinton in polling averages. When he clinched the Republican nomination in May, his numbers shot up as Republicans rallied around their nominee, and then after the Republican National Convention, they did so again. In both cases, Clinton stood up in front of the country and gave a speech watched by millions which reminded voters of the historic nature of her candidacy, which led to collapses of Trump's poll numbers as he responded with meltdowns.

PBS NewsHour on YouTube
CNN on YouTube

There was a brief moment where people thought Clinton might fizzle in debates against Trump. She was down to a mere 1.5-percent lead after she collapsed at a 9/11 memorial event, and people wondered if she could lodge a win as decisive as she needed. We all know what happened.

Vox on YouTube

Hillary Clinton is now the far-and-away frontrunner, and predicted by many to be on track for the largest presidential election landslide in decades. Already, there are those who claim that this is purely because her opponent was so bad, that Clinton doesn't deserve credit for winning, that she'll lack a mandate. But that's because it's so rare that people give her the attention she has earned.