After Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss in the Michigan primary Tuesday night raised fresh questions about her appeal, her campaign manager, Robby Mook, arranged a conference call Wednesday with reporters to reveal a new strategy.
He would stun and subdue Clinton’s doubters with unflinching monotony.
Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asked what Clinton would do to compete in the Illinois primary next week. “She is going to build on the work she did,” Mook said, “to lay out a specific plan to create more good-paying jobs.”
Rex Huppke: Can we re-cast the presidential race?
Politico’s Annie Karni asked whether the Michigan loss identified any vulnerabilities for Clinton against a populist opponent. “She is the only candidate that has rolled out a specific plan to create more good-paying manufacturing jobs,” Mook answered.
Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times asked how the loss would affect Clinton’s debate strategy. “Secretary Clinton is the only candidate who has put out a specific plan to create more good-paying manufacturing jobs,” Mook replied.
But Mook wouldn’t relent.
NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald pointed out that exit polls showed trouble for Clinton on the trade issue. “Voters are looking for their next president to create more good-paying jobs,” Mook countered.
USA Today’s Susan Page inquired about Clinton’s trouble with young voters. “Secretary Clinton,” the campaign manager said, “has been aggressively addressing … how we can make sure there are good-paying jobs.”
The call was now 25 minutes old. The last questioner, Amie Parnes of The Hill, asked about Clinton’s deficit among white men and blue-collar workers. “She has rolled out policies that are going to create more good-paying jobs,” Mook informed her.
It was probably the most mechanical performance by a human being since the RubioBot got stuck in an infinite loop on the GOP debate stage in New Hampshire.
And the Mook Malfunction is worrying, because it underscores a certain lack of imagination in Clinton’s candidacy.
She will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee, yet she doesn’t seem to have anything to say to the young people and white middle-class voters who don’t see her appeal.
Considering that she won the other primary held Tuesday night (in Mississippi), the headlines Wednesday morning were murderous.
CNN: “What went wrong for Hillary Clinton in Michigan?”
The Washington Post: “The two big warning signs in Hillary Clinton’s shocking Michigan loss”
The Boston Globe: “With Sanders’ Mich. win, Clinton’s vulnerabilities revealed”
In 2008, Clinton had a seemingly hopeless path to amass enough delegates, but she won enough states to keep her campaign going. Now, Sanders is coming up with enough surprises to keep his campaign going, and the Clinton campaign is making its case based on the uninspiring logic of delegate math.
“The delegate math dictates that Sen. Sanders must expand his map and compete in more states than he currently is and he needs to not just win those states but he needs to do so by very lopsided margins if he’s going to catch up,” Mook declared Wednesday. “For that reason we are confident that we are nearing the point where our delegate lead will effectively become insurmountable.”
AP FACT CHECK: Eye-popping claims about Sanders
The Post’s Anne Gearan wasn’t swayed: “I get your point about math, but he won one state, you guys won one. What is the argument that he should stand down?”
Mook did not offer one.
Asked Karni, “Does Bernie’s come-from-behind victory highlight anything you need to work on aside from the math?”
Mook encouraged her not to “read too much into these primary contests.”
True, primary results don’t necessarily predict general-election patterns, and the Republicans’ disunity could make Clinton’s vulnerabilities moot. But her campaign has a desultory feel right now. She has all but won the nomination, but she’s doing it shakily, by attrition, her superior coalition-building defeating Sanders’ more inspiring message.
She simply hasn’t caught fire with voters anxious about the economy.
In the meantime, the Clinton campaign’s solution seems to be repetition. In answer to three separate questions, Mook said Clinton would “fight harder for young people’s votes,” would “continue to fight hard” for white, blue-collar voters and would “work as hard as she can” to win in the industrial Midwest.
Then he returned to arithmetic. Even if Clinton were to lose Ohio, Illinois and Missouri next week, Mook predicted, “we will add to our already commanding pledged-delegate lead and will be a significant step closer to securing the nomination.”
The math is on Clinton’s side. What’s problematic is the message.
Follow Mr. Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.