Swiss newspapers are not surprised by Hillary Clinton’s announcement on Sunday that she is running for US president, all agreeing that while she has excellent chances of winning, she also has weaknesses – plus a lot can happen in 18 months.
“Hillary Clinton’s candidature is about as surprising as the first hot day of spring: people have been expecting it for ages,” said the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on Monday.
“But there’s a paradox: never, among Democrats in the race to succeed a president, has someone managed to establish themselves as the favourite – not only within the party but across the country – so soon, despite lacking a significant campaign requirement: the need for renewal, which is not immediately obvious with the candidature of someone who represents the political establishment so much.”
The 67-year-old former First Lady and Secretary of State made her 2016 plans official on her campaign website on Sunday, saying in a video that “everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion”.
The NZZ pointed out that unless a vice-president was available as an “automatic” candidate, the Democrats generally choose fresh faces who stand for new ideas and embody a change of generations – for example Kennedy, Carter, Hillary’s husband Bill “and, of course, it was the reason why Hillary was defeated by Barack Obama seven years ago”.
“Clinton’s age means she can’t offer a generational change, and she hasn’t come up with any original ideas recently,” the paper continued.
But this wasn’t necessarily a disadvantage, it added. “She ticks the new and pioneering box in her own way: as the first woman in the history of the US with good chances of becoming president.”
Just as many Americans were excited seven years ago about electing the first non-white president, it said the prospect of the first “Madam President” would trigger “pride and fascination”.
“Obviously it would be unfair to reduce Hillary Clinton to her gender,” it said, pointing to her long career as adviser to a president (her husband), politician in Congress and Secretary of State.
“But this doesn’t mean Hillary Clinton will sail effortlessly through the election. Doubts about her sincerity – recently fed by her arrogant way of dealing with official emails [she used a private server to send official emails while Secretary of State], her health, the vagueness of her programme and the feeling of uneasiness about a ‘Clinton dynasty’ will follow her doggedly during the campaign,” it concluded.
Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger largely agreed but was concerned by the Democrats putting all their political eggs in one basket.
“While the Republicans are giving the impression that every other party member is running for the White House … the Democrats are content with just one trump,” it said.
“Clinton is admittedly a formidable candidate, excellently positioned financially and with more diplomatic experience than all her Republican rivals combined. Clearly the chances have never been so good for a historic event: that finally a woman will reach the highest office in the US. Maybe the only person who can beat her is Clinton herself.”
That, it said, is where the real risk lies. “Clinton often makes life unnecessarily complicated for herself, with clumsy appearances and minor infringements of the rules, as recently in the affair over her emails. She ought to have learnt from her mistakes during the campaign in 2007 and 2008, but it can’t be ruled out that once again she comes across as out of touch with the real world, thin-skinned and ends up scaring off some voters (even female ones).”
The Tages-Anzeiger also pointed out that her relationship with the media was “strained at best, marked by paranoia at worst” and that, ultimately, “Americans could gradually tire of the never-ending Clinton and Bush clans”.
In a nutshell, “should Clinton trip up or simply fail to inspire, her party will be left without an alternative”.
In French-speaking Switzerland, the Tribune de Genève described Clinton as a “hardened” candidate who, despite being the big favourite, “is not without weaknesses”.
“She enters the race for the White House with the image of an inescapable – read unbeatable – candidate,” it said, citing a recent poll by CBS in which 81% of Democrats were prepared to vote for her.
“But even if she starts the campaign a step ahead of her Republican rivals, Hillary Clinton remains vulnerable, as the controversy over her emails shows. She’s also going to have to deal with the Obama factor. Despite good economic results, a poll by CNN revealed that 57% of Americans want their next president to adopt a different policy from that taken by Obama.”
For his part, Obama said that he thinks Clinton “would be an excellent president”.
Le Nouvelliste in canton Valais said that Clinton’s announcement on Sunday had been expected for so long that it was hard to muster much excitement.
“The lack of enthusiasm represents the big problem facing her and the giant electoral war machine supposed to serve her interests. Everything in the campaign is already so studied, so prepared, that there’s little room left for improvisation and personal moments. Isn’t a presidential election above all an emotional encounter between a candidate and a nation?”
It said there was a “storybook dimension” to Clinton’s career: “the First Lady humiliated by her husband’s sexual escapades who bounces back to become a senator and is then humiliated again when she is beaten at the finishing line by a political novice in 2008 before trying her luck again eight years later.”
This exceptional journey is also her weakness, it said. “She’s been around for so long – she’s part of the political furniture. The question is whether Americans will want to change it.”
Le Nouvelliste had other questions, such as “how to channel the energy of her campaign without ending up with the cacophony of 2008? What role will be played by Bill Clinton, a valuable and prized voice but hard to control? How much distance to take from Obama?”
The NZZ concluded that the hour of truth wouldn’t begin until next year, when the main campaign starts against a Republican opponent.
“Between now and then, there can be many surprises. But as it stands today, Hillary Clinton has excellent cards: the Democrat electorate, strengthened by non-partisan female and older voters, makes, at least on paper, a coalition with excellent chances of winning.”