Buffeted by jarring social change, the American public is disillusioned with:
- Washington, especially the gridlock.
- Politics in general, especially the phoniness.
- Institutions, especially the ineffectiveness.
As the 2016 election fast approaches, most Americans intellectually understand the importance of your experience as first lady, senator, and secretary of State. Your personal approval ratings are higher than those of President Obama. You should be proud. But, as you've heard us say, Americans make most of their decisions—from buying homes and cars to deciding where to shop and how to vote—not with their heads, but with their guts. By that measure, we've seen results of psycho-social surveys and of focus groups that raise red flags.
Most Americans, including many of your supporters, consider you to be:
- A creature of Washington.
- Intensely political (think of words like "calculating" and "ambitious").
- An institution (and not just because of your age. The Clinton family itself is an institution, one freighted with baggage).
And so your biggest hurdle isn't your age, the president's record, your husband, or even Benghazi/Whitewater, etc. It's you, Hillary. You're the problem—that is, if you once again present yourself as an institution of Washington awaiting a political coronation. To win, you must be the anti-Hillary. You need to blast the public's caricature of you to smithereens and replace it with what we know as the Real Hillary.
In 2015-16, you must be:
- Accessible. Be a constant presence on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media (you, not your staff). Surround yourself all day with reporters and photographers. Exhaust them with … you. Make John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" look like a buttoned-down operation. Operate with a flexible schedule that allows for off-the-cuff wonderfulness.
- Honest and Authentic. Take tough stands and state them clearly. Make mistakes and own up to them. As a matter of fact, the only thing we should schedule for you every day is the "Daily Mistake and Apology." We're kidding ... sort of.
- Vulnerable. Remember choking up in New Hampshire? You looked human. People like humans. Don't be afraid of looking tired or even grumpy; those are emotions that people can relate to, if you explain them. That horsey laugh of yours? Don't hide it; you're a funny, warm person. Let people see you. Be. Hillary.
- Flexible. We live in a time of unprecedented change, when institutions adapt or perish. Be an institution that adapts. Be quick to change your strategy, your message, your staff (fire us first!) and, yes, even your hairstyle. Tut-tutting be damned.
- Small. People are tired of big institutions. Travel light and run a lean operation. We've told people this for years but they don't believe us: While nobody feels a country's pain like your husband, you are better than President Clinton in living rooms and at kitchen tables. Far better. You are a master of the small talk and small gestures that still make a difference in politics, especially in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Show them.
- Competent. This goes without saying, but that divided, plodding campaign operation you ran in 2008 didn't work. It also sent a bad signal to voters about how you might run their government. A model for your 2016 campaign would be (you're going to hate this) no-drama Obama. Also, your staff is one way to shatter the perception that you're a polarizer. Hire a Republican or two—ideally, people who worked for the Bush-Cheney White House and later (publicly) disowned the politics of division. Surprise them.
- Populist: Our detailed thoughts on your agenda will come in a separate memo but understand this: The next president of the United States (Democrat or Republican) will be a populist. Income disparity and declining social mobility are clichés in Washington, but in the rest of America, they are facts of life. Middle-class voters, especially, are angry and scared, and they're hungry for a leader who will carry them across that bridge built for the 21st century. Borrow from populists on the left (Elizabeth Warren's attacks on Wall Street) and the right (Rand Paul's attacks on NSA surveillance) to be the singular candidate for our troubled times.