It wasn't supposed to be like this. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have pinned their hopes on persuading voters that they are everything the Trump campaign is not – united, stable, professional, uncrazy and adult. It's opening night. And all anyone's talking about is the party's dirty laundry. Not good! Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders' supporters have taken to the streets to remind voters that Hillary is the very embodiment of the entitled, corrupt, cynical, elite political establishment that Americans are so sick of. Whose side are they on, anyway?
The contents of the WikiLeaks spill aren't very toxic. They simply reveal the usual scheming and conniving of backroom politics. They confirm that access is always on sale for cash. They also confirm that the fix was in for Hillary all along. No surprise there. The fix has been in for years. She's the one with the dough. She and Bill Clinton and their formidable global network of fundraisers and fixers have amassed a bigger war chest than any conventional political machine in history. So long as she managed to escape indictment, her candidacy was inevitable.
The real news from WikiLeaks is that the Russians appear to be interfering in the U.S. election – on behalf of Donald Trump. If true, this is seismic. The biggest untold story about Mr. Trump is how deeply beholden he is to the Russian oligarchs, who now provide a huge share of his business backing. His top adviser, Paul Manafort, has deep ties to Ukraine's pro-Russian politicians. Mr. Trump is Vladimir Putin's man. It's no coincidence that he says he has no interest in standing up to the Russian President as he licks his chops over the Baltics.
In any other year, the Russian ties of a presidential nominee would be laughed off as some crazy conspiracy theory – or else sink him. But this isn't any other year. And Ms. Clinton is so disliked that even a Russian hacking scandal may not help her much.
It's hard for Canadians to understand why Ms. Clinton is so widely loathed. Sure, she's imperfect. Who isn't? But she is also an accomplished, determined woman who's paid her dues, and then some. So why the hatred?
One reason, of course, is the devolution of U.S. politics into a bitter conflict of competing tribal identities. But it's more than that. Ms. Clinton simply isn't relatable. Across the political spectrum, people just can't warm to her. They never have. "There's just something about her that pisses people off," said Washington hostess Sally Quinn back in 1996.
Ms. Quinn is quoted by Michelle Goldberg in a recent piece in Slate, which explores this very theme. She found that the reasons for disliking Hillary have changed over time, but the dislike itself has not. In the early days, people disliked her for being a moralistic prig. Today they dislike her for her opportunism and lack of principles. A large percentage of the electorate believe she's untrustworthy, dishonest and corrupt. At the very least, they think she cuts corners.
There's enough in the record to justify these views. No matter what you think of her e-mail troubles, there's no doubt she withheld information and misled the FBI. Nor is there any doubt that she gave $200,000 speeches to outfits that had a keen interest in purchasing her goodwill, or that her political interests were deeply meshed with those of the Clinton Foundation, which raised hundreds of millions from domestic and foreign donors that wished to curry favour with the Clintons. Ms. Clinton represents business as usual in an era that craves change. She's the ultimate insider at a time when people are rooting for the insurgents.
But Hillary's worst problem is that she is cursed with a sort of reverse alchemy that renders her completely charmless on the public stage. As Ms. Goldberg writes, "For as long as Hillary Clinton has been in public life, people who've met in her person have marvelled at how much more likable she is in the flesh than she is on television."
Such is the cruelty of showbiz – and of politics. If you can't connect, you're in the wrong line of work. For all of Ms. Clinton's merits, you wonder if she would have been elected to anything at all without the coattails of her charismatic husband.
Hillary's task this week is to make people more excited about her and her leadership. It's hard to see how she can do this. She's been in the shop window for a quarter of a century, and people don't like her any better than they ever did. The big question is whether they can get over that and vote for her anyway.