As Hillary Clinton’s team is about to learn, a good Saturday Night Live sketch can be a politically powerful thing.
Gerald Ford was one of the most athletic presidents we’ve ever had, but you’d probably never know that because Chevy Chase always played him as a klutz. Tina Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin was so lethal and on-point that it helped cement the latter’s reputation as an airhead. (For instance, how many of you need reminding that Palin never actually said, “I can see Russia from my house.”) The SNL-coined Bushism “strategery” quickly found its way into the permanent political lexicon. And Al Gore’s handlers were so worried about Darrell Hammond’s impression of the then-vice president during the 2000 campaign that they forced him to watch it before debates.
With the 2016 campaign around the corner, Saturday Night Live, which usually sees an uptick in ratings during presidential years, has another opportunity to help frame national discussion of the candidates.
The loudest shot fired so far would have to be this past week’s send-up of the Clinton’s secret email system. In the sketch, Kate McKinnon lampoons Clinton’s awkward forays into relatability, and paints the former Secretary of State as deranged, power-mad, and wholly insincere.
The impression earned McKinnon rave reviews. “McKinnon owned the episode from the cold open, in which she debuted a folksy, frenzied Hillary Clinton impression that only burnishes SNL’s tradition of skewering presidential hopefuls,” Slate raved. “Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton on #SNL is everything this election cycle needed,” NBC News’ Jillian Sederholm tweeted.
McKinnon’s is a far more effective satirical portrait than former SNL cast member Amy Poehler’s toothless, often sympathetic portrayal in 2008. Clinton was apparently pleased enough with Poehler’s performance that the two struck up a friendly relationship. The former First Lady even wrote a letter to Poehler’s infant son Archie.
You can compare and contrast McKinnon to Poehler:
So if SNL continues on this route into the presidential race—and if McKinnon keeps knocking it out of the park as psycho-Hillary—the likely Democratic candidate might find some her most annoying 2016 adversaries are late-night sketch show writers.
A Clinton spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on what she thought of the new sketch.