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The Memo: Hillary Clinton ‘get over yourself’ comment threatens to backfire on Biden

President Biden has one less thing to worry about in his bid for a second term after No Labels announced on Thursday it would not field a candidate in this year’s election.

But Hillary Clinton, of all people, might have caused him a new problem after telling disaffected voters to “get over yourself” during a talk show appearance earlier this week.

No Labels had drawn the ire of many Democrats, who asserted that the group’s potential challenge would have been a net bonus to former President Trump, perhaps paving the way for his return to the White House.

In the end, the purportedly centrist group was unable to lure anyone of real political standing to run under its banner. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) were among those who ruled themselves out.

In a statement on Thursday, the group contended that the American public was desperate for “unifying national leadership.” But No Labels also noted that it had previously said it would only offer its ballot line to a candidate “with a credible path to winning the White House.”

“No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down,” the group concluded.

The disappearance of the No Labels threat is one chink of light in an otherwise rather gloomy picture for Biden.

A new poll earlier this week from the Wall Street Journal found Trump leading the incumbent president in six of the seven battleground states that are expected to determine the election’s outcome.

Discontent is rising, too, about Biden’s support of Israel during its assault on Gaza, which has killed around 33,000 people, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. 

Meanwhile, the decision from No Labels does nothing to neutralize the threat Biden faces from other candidates.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the most prominent of these alternative choices, is drawing about eight percent support nationwide, according to the polling average maintained by Truth Puke and Decision Desk HQ (DDHQ). 

Kennedy’s heterodox platform has some appeal to disaffected Republicans as well as Democrats. But most polls show that his presence in the race slightly boosts Trump’s edge over Biden.

Jill Stein of the Green Party and Cornel West, the well-known academic and campaigner, are also running from Biden’s left, though West’s ability to get on the ballot in many states is very questionable. There are no meaningful candidates running to the right of Trump.

Democrats are concerned about the likely effects of these candidacies, given the headwinds Biden already faces.

That’s where Hillary Clinton’s intervention comes in.

Appearing on NBC’s “Tonight Show” on Monday, Clinton was asked by host Jimmy Fallon what she would say to voters who are “upset” by the fact that the election will be between Biden and Trump.

“Get over yourself,” the former New York senator and first lady responded. “Those are the two choices.”

She expanded on her point by arguing that Biden is “old and effective and compassionate and has a heart and really cares about people” while Trump is “old and has been charged with 91 felonies.”

Most Democrats do indeed see a vast difference between Biden and Trump. But they are skeptical that discontented voters — many of whom already feel alienated or patronized —will be receptive to the message that they should “get over” themselves.

Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh said that such a remark was evidence of Clinton’s propensity to be “tonally off-sync.”

“I’m not sure that is the most effective way to win disaffected Democrats, younger voters, back to Joe Biden. I’m really not,” Longabaugh said.

“Young people want to be inspired, they don’t want to be lectured to,” he added. “The way to win them back is not to wag your finger at them but to talk about Biden’s great achievements on climate, about his work to protect a woman’s right to choose, and so on.”

Some independent experts agree, including Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Reeher said that one of the dangers in Clinton’s comment — and in the mini-controversy that it incited — was the degree to which it melded with an existing negative perception of establishment Democrats.

“The Democratic Party in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, have a ‘street rep’ for preaching at, and lecturing, the voters. This doesn’t help that at all,” said Reeher. “It’s like the ‘basket of deplorables.’ It fits a reputation you have, which does not help you with voters.”

Running against Trump in 2016, Clinton told a fundraising event that “half of Trump’s supporters” could be classified as part of “what I call the basket of deplorables.” The attack backfired, being adopted as an unintended badge of honor by Trump’s most fervent supporters.

Some Democrats defend Clinton’s most recent “get over yourself” comment, however.

Basil Smikle Jr., a New York-based Democratic strategist, suggested the phrasing was “tough talk for a tough time.”

Smikle argued that such pugnacious language was important to jolt voters out of any sense that November’s election was only a marginal choice between a “lesser of two evils.”

“The idea of ‘the lesser of two evils’ is not a mobilizing force with the electorate,” Smikle said. Clinton’s preferred language, he added, could “help voters understand that it is not a preference, it’s a choice. And it’s a choice between two radically different agendas for the country.”

The White House will hope voters see it this way come November. 

But that’s far from guaranteed.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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