Will Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton Impression On 'SNL' Influence The Election Like Chevy Chase's Portrayal Of Gerald Ford Did?
With the now-confirmed news that Hillary Clinton has announced her campaign for presidency, we all have a lot to think about. Some of it we've already been thinking about for the months and years that she waited before acknowledging her candidacy for 2016, like all the crucial political stuff with statistics and percentages and margins of error — and some of it is more pop culture-based, which is my forte. I mean, I'm happy to read other people's analyses of the numbers all day, but I was never what you'd call a math maven — so when it comes to my own conclusions, I'm using source material a little closer to home: television. Specifically, Saturday Night Live. As you probably noticed in early March, cast member Kate McKinnon has taken over Hillary Clinton impressions in the series, a role previously held by Vanessa Bayer (who'd done them intermittently since Amy Poehler left the show), and it's led me to wonder — will this affect Clinton's campaign?
It might not seem all that important at first glance who does impressions on SNL — and of whom — but you might not be so quick to say that if you'd been of voting age during the 1976 presidential election which saw President Gerald Ford up against President Jimmy Carter. On the Republican side, Ford was the incumbent, of course, while Carter was a relatively unknown Democratic former governor of Georgia — so everyone expected a Ford win. But, it actually became a much tighter race than anyone predicted, with Carter ultimately defeating Ford in a victory that many give partial credit for to SNL... and specifically Chevy Chase.
Chase was the actor tasked with writing and performing impressions of Ford, and as an admitted supporter of Carter, he was able to essentially craft an entirely new persona for the sitting president — specifically, that of a stumbling, bumbling idiot. Although Ford was actually quite the talented athlete, the show portrayed him as a buffoon, which was a joke that Ford attempted (and failed) to get in on; according to Vanity Fair , high-up members of his campaign "credited Chase’s caricature with helping to seal the president’s fate in the razor-close election."
It's a fascinating phenomenon, and one that you can't help but wonder if will be repeated in 2016. While SNL's creator Lorne Michaels is registered as an Independent, according to Vulture , the show itself tends to go a little harder on Republicans — if only because, as Michaels says, "Democrats tend to take it personally; Republicans think it's funny."
So it really comes down to McKinnon herself and the choices she makes in her portrayal of Clinton. Thus far, she's added an almost-psychotic edge to Clinton, while lampooning her desire to be seen as an accessible "everywoman," — something that might hurt Clinton. But on the other hand, McKinnon is a charming performer who can even make Justin Bieber more likable in impersonating him, so at this point it's still anyone's game.
Bottom line, I think we'll have to wait until we have a viable Republican candidate to face Clinton before we know how SNL's portrayal will affect her. Stay tuned!