The most stinging critiques of Hillary Clinton this campaign season might not come from Republicans but from a 31-year-old actress with a spot-on Justin Bieber impression.
Like no other political force, “Saturday Night Live” actress Kate McKinnon is seeping into the cultural bloodstream as the latest incarnation of Clinton. McKinnon is serving up a version of Clinton as an overly ambitious and calculating politician who, try as she might, can’t quite seem to nail the role of a normal human being.
In McKinnon’s hands, Clinton bares all of her teeth in a frozen growl as she poses for a cell phone video.
“Citizens, you will elect me. I will be your leader!” she screams.
McKinnon is among the many versions of Clinton featured on “Saturday Night Live” over the years. While others have mostly played it small, portraying Clinton as bland and tightly wound, McKinnon has gone broad and absurd, sketching Clinton as a power hungry queen with a mean edge and a weird wave.
It is Hillary Clinton to the extreme — and it’s as catchy as a Taylor Swift song.
Saturday Night Live’s caricatures of presidents and candidates often have the kind of cultural currency and stickiness that a campaign ad or tour of Iowa could never buy, which can make them potentially damaging if not handled well. The SNL versions of politicians can sometimes become stand-ins for the real thing, or at least occupy the same space as the real thing and influence what traits people associate with a politician.
Did President George W. Bush ever really say “strategery” or was that just Will Ferrell’s version of him? What about that whole “na-ga-da it” line from President George H.W. Bush? The real thing or Dana Carvey? And, of course, Tina Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin is legendary.
McKinnon is just getting started.
With the campaign rollout of the Clinton 2016 version of the former secretary of state/senator/first lady, McKinnon will have plenty of material to riff on. Those Chipotle chicken burrito bowl and Scooby Doo van jokes will write themselves.
So should the Clinton campaign be worried about the earworm that is McKinnon’s version of Hillary Clinton? Or is it all just fun and games?
On Saturday night, a few staffers were emailing about the skit and teasing Clinton communications staffer Kristina Schake about her “appearance” in the skit as the aide trying to get Clinton to appear authentic and warm. There’s no word yet on whether Clinton has seen McKinnon’s version of her.
But over the years, politicians have tried to blunt the power of their “Saturday Night Live” selves by appearing on the show and showing that it’s all in good fun.
Palin lined up next to Fey. Clinton belly laughed next to Amy Poehler in the same brown pants suit. And John McCain and his wife, Cindy, appeared next to the fake version of his running mate to sell fake campaign gear on QVC and get in a couple of shots at his rivals.
“They can have fun with this,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked on Al Gore’s campaign, and had to deal with similar lampooning. “This is a different age and there are a multitude of outlets that are going to have their versions with fairly obvious common denominators when it comes to the caricature — which is why turning what could be fodder for comedy outlets into a strength is important.”