clock menu more-arrow no yes

No, Hillary Clinton is not too rich to win in 2016

Tell it to FDR and JFK.
Tell it to FDR and JFK.
Chip Somodevilla

Philip Rucker at the Washington Post has kicked off an exciting new pre-campaign meme that the wealth Bill and Hillary Clinton have accrued since the end of the Clinton administration renders Hillary out of touch and politically weak.

The big problem for this theory is that there's zero evidence that being rich and out of touch hurts presidential candidates. Consider:

Bill Clinton rose from poor beginnings in rural Arkansas to the presidency. In 1992, it was Clinton's everyman connection that helped him defeat then-president George H.W. Bush, a patrician who was ridiculed for not knowing the price of a gallon of milk and for expressing amazement at supermarket scanners.

There is not in fact any evidence that Clinton's "everyman connection" was important to the outcome of the 1992 election. Indeed, George H.W. Bush was a patrician back in 1988 when he won an election. And his son George W. Bush managed to carry the dynastic tradition forward by winning election as president in 2000 and 2004.

But in 1992, the economy was still suffering from a severe recession which hurt the incumbent. Note that this was also the year in which 19 percent of the public voted for eccentric billionaire Ross Perot's third party campaign — not exactly an indication of a widespread loathing of rich candidates.

Rucker is probably just engaging in the everyday journalistic tendency to overrate the importance of presidential candidates' personalities. But I also detect in the conversation around this piece more than a whiff of wishful thinking. Right now the centerpiece of the GOP economic agenda is a plan to cut spending on the poor while raising taxes on the middle class in order to finance a large tax cut for the wealthy. Mike Lee and a few others are proposing that Republicans respond to the unpopularity of this agenda by ditching it in favor of a different tax policy. But proponents of the current GOP agenda would prefer not to ditch it.

The idea that this agenda was unpopular because Mitt Romney was so personally wealthy is, in that light, an appealing theory.

But there's no reason to think that's how politics works and there never has been. Rich people get elected president all the time.