“The Dark Side Of Hillary Clinton’s New Inevitability”: We Live In The Age Of The Enemy-Of-My-Enemy Politics
For her birthday, Hillary Clinton got some conventional wisdom.
In the wake of a dominating debate performance and equally impressive turn at the Benghazi hearings, the usual Washington suspects have decided being inevitable isn’t so bad after all. She became “the heroine of a captivating political drama,” says Reuters. Her 11-hour testimony was, says Vox, “her best campaign ad yet.” Once again, quoth The Fix at The Washington Post, “Republicans saved Hillary.” The Guardian saw a “triumphant October” and “political observers’ doubts fade.” “The Most Likely Next President Is Hillary Clinton,” declared Mark Halperin at Bloomberg News.
Now, Halperin’s judgments on candidates’ political fortunes are fickle enough that there could be a Hallmark card designed for those on their receiving end. (It’s shelved next to the “So I heard Bill Kristol thinks you should run for president” line.) Just last March, based on Clinton’s lackluster response to the revelation that she used a private email server to conduct some State Department business, Halperin got his syntax in a bunch and huffed that he had revised a yet earlier opinion: “I now think that she’s not only not easily the most likely, I don’t think she’s anymore the most likely.”
I’m probably the last one who needs to remind Clinton that the favor of the Washington media isn’t so much a gift horse that requires a look in the mouth as a pile of what comes out the other end. More enduring support has come in the form of dollars; the campaign claims to have had its most successful single hour yet between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the night of her Benghazi testimony and added 100,000 new donors in October.
That is clearly more encouraging news than whatever fresh-baked takes are wafting across Twitter, but the mechanism behind the outpouring of support isn’t an unalloyed gift. We live in the age of enemy-of-my-enemy politics, and analysis that stops with seeing Clinton benefit from the Republicans’ attack on her misses the equal and opposite reaction on the right.
At the moment, that reaction is diffused into the clown car of chaos chugging across the primary landscape. There are more than a dozen campaigns all trying to lay claim to the mantle of Clinton-slayer, and at the moment they look less like an opponent than a tribe of minions trying to scrabble to the top of a living pyramid. Once votes and money coalesce around a candidate, it will be more difficult to count Clinton as the winner in any given contest.
But look, I don’t think your average swing voter cares about the controversies that obsess the right. Republicans have a historically and hysterically bad record at overestimating the degree to which mere annoyance with the Clintons’ foibles translates into active support for their agenda. What’s more, the GOP seems determined to nominate someone whose views aren’t just unpopular with the vast majority of Americans but actively repellent to many. (If the right wants to die on the hill of fake “religious liberty” causes, it’ll die alone). The Republican Party has made little progress on defusing the demographic time bomb that will soon make winning the white male vote an even more dubious distinction.
So I’m not worried so much about the Republican nominee winning come next November, but I am worried that the Democrats’ best hope for holding the White House for the next eight years performs best from a defensive posture. She needs the GOP as much as it needs her. It’s a stance of mutually assured fundraising, a recipe for continued gridlock and a million clever social media memes, but not much progress.
On some level, this winningest loser strategy mirrors the exact scenario Clinton’s anti-Bernie Sanders surrogates stoke: He’ll never get anything done, they argue, he’s too polarizing and extreme! In real life, Sanders is one of Congress’s most successful brokers—the “amendment king” of the House and the co-shepherd of the last bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the Senate’s few bipartisan successes in recent years.
The somewhat sad truth is that Sanders is polarizing because of his positions, not because of who he is. Clinton’s provocativeness is, on the other hand, half intentional bluster and half protective coloring. As a woman, because she bears the burden of being first and among the few, her skill in turning these things into triumphs is an adaptation, an evolutionary advantage that ensures her survival—even as it draws into question her ability to build a legacy.
As it is, the higgledy-piggledy nature of the Republican debate field remains her best friend, even if what it takes to win isn’t the same as what’s required to govern. When the CNBC Gong Show ends Wednesday night, Washington’s wisest will no doubt find more proof of her ascendance. They should keep in mind that’s largely because the rest of the field has sunk so low.
By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015
“Do Republicans Think It Will Be Easy To Beat Hillary?”: Continuing To Believe In Circumstances Shaped By Their Own Talking Points
What is the Republican theory of the 2016 election? Is it that the Democrats have developed a durable demographic advantage in national elections and that the GOP must nominate someone who can broaden the party’s reach beyond core constituencies, as Republicans concluded after the 2012 debacle?
Or is it increasingly that such demographic concerns can be tossed to the winds — that Hillary Clinton is such a flawed candidate that Republicans don’t have to worry too much about picking a standard bearer with broad general election appeal?
The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has a good piece today in which he posits the latter theory. Klein’s overall point is that the two parties are each making wildly different assumptions about next year’s contest — and that this has driven each party further into its own ideological corner, portending an unusually charged and intense general election battle.
Democrats, Klein points out, are betting that the last two presidential elections show that the way to win is to reconstitute the Obama coalition of millennials, nonwhites, and socially liberal college educated whites. The robust liberal consensus on display at the last debate shows that Hillary Clinton is fully embracing this coalition’s priorities. As I’ve also argued, Democrats see no need to believe this will compromise her in a general election, since many of these policies also have majority support.
The Republican theory of the 2016 election, however, is very different. Here’s how Klein describes it:
Republicans, on the other hand, are making a completely different calculation. Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, they see Hillary Clinton’s numbers steadily tanking under an ethical cloud, as a growing number of Americans say they don’t trust her. Polls have shown Republicans ahead of Clinton even in Pennsylvania, a blue state that has eluded GOP nominees for decades. They’re confident that her weaknesses as a candidate have made the presidency ripe for the picking. Given this sense of optimism, they see no reason to settle.
Instead, as of this writing, half of Republican primary voters polled nationally are supporting candidates who have never held elective office. At the same time, candidates who fit the profile of a traditional Republican nominee (such as Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich) are at about 10 percent — combined….when the dust settles, it’s difficult to see the Republican electorate deciding that to beat Clinton, they need an “electable moderate” in the mold of Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.
Klein seems to be talking mainly about what’s driving the thinking of GOP primary voters. This gives rise to a question: Do serious Republican strategists and establishment figures really believe this? Do they think Clinton is suddenly proving so unexpectedly flawed — thanks to the email scandal and Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly robust challenge — that they are now less inclined to worry about the need for a candidate who can help offset the party’s structural and demographic disadvantages?
If so, you’d think recent events would undercut that confidence. After months of being on the defensive over the email story, we’ve now seen an unexpectedly strong debate performance from Clinton. New fundraising numbers show that she enjoys a large advantage over the serious GOP candidates, and that rank-and-file Democrats may be very energized. A series of disastrous moments of candor from Republicans about the Benghazi probe have undermined the credibility of GOP efforts to exploit the email story. While none of these guarantees anything for Clinton, you’d think they’d remind Republicans that politics changes quickly and that placing too many chips on Clinton’s weakness might be misguided.
And yet recent history demonstrates that GOP strategists sometimes do place too much stock in overly confident, ill-thought-through assessments of the weakness of the opposing candidate and what appear to be insurmountable (but actually prove ephemeral or misleading) political circumstances. In 2012, for instance, the Romney campaign convinced itself that there was no way Obama could possibly get reelected amid such difficult economic circumstances: this made it inevitable that Obama would meet the fate that befell Jimmy Carter, when undecided voters shifted against him to hand Ronald Reagan a big victory. (That itself is bad history, but that underscores my point.) The larger Romney campaign calculation was that there was no way swing voters could possibly see Obama as anything but a total, abject failure, since Republicans knew he had been one. But that reading turned out to be seriously flawed.
Meanwhile, the Romney camp also convinced itself that there was no way the 2012 electorate could possibly be as diverse as it had been in 2008, presumably since Obama’s election was probably a fluke driven by the cult of personality that driven nonwhite and young voters into a frenzy that had worn off once they realized who he really was. That also turned out to be wrong. The point is that Republican operatives adopted a strategic view of the opposing candidate and his circumstances that was largely shaped by their own talking points about him and less about a hard-headed and nuanced look at deeper factors.
Hillary Clinton will of course not be as strong a candidate as Obama was. She does have serious weaknesses. History tilts against one party winning the White House three times in a row. And the question of whether she can mobilize the Obama coalition in Obama-like numbers is a big unknown. But superficial assessments of her current weaknesses — which could be reinforced if Republicans believe their talking points about her — could obscure an appreciation of the built-in advantages that she may enjoy. She could benefit from structural factors such as continued demographic change. The Democratic agenda (this is another possibility that the Romney camp seemed incapable of grasping) may prove more popular than the Republican one with the national electorate, brash assessments that Hillary has lurched “left” notwithstanding. The very real chance at electing the first female president could prove a major factor. And it’s possible — yes, possible — that the Clinton camp may successfully neutralize the email mess after all.
It would be interesting to know just how seriously the smartest GOP operatives are taking these possibilities. Paul Waldman argues today that Republican operatives and establishment figures are not exactly adopting a hard-headed approach to the electability question.
Of course, if Klein is right, and GOP voters are deciding that Clinton is so weak that they need not worry about their standard-bearer’s electability, then it may not matter what Republican strategists and establishment figures think. They aren’t the ones who are picking the GOP nominee.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line Blog, October 16, 2015
“Significantly Ambivalent On Key Issues”: The White Working Class As “Yes, But” And “No, But” Voters
I think we are beginning to understand this year more than in the past that non-college white voters–a.k.a. the “white working class” are currently bifurcated into those who intensely dislike government but aren’t sold on conservative economic panaceas and those who are very angry about the “rigged” economy but aren’t sure they trust government to do anything about it. The former are heavily represented in the current support base of Donald Trump, while the latter should be targets for Democrats. That proposition about the latter was, of course, the main message in Stan Greenberg’s essay on the white working class in the current issue of the Washington Monthly, which also served as the basis for the roundtable discussion WaMo sponsored in conjunction with The Democratic Strategist.
In his WaPo column yesterday, E.J. Dionne grasped the importance of this realization in writing about “yes, but” voters who may have partisan voting habits but are significantly ambivalent on key issues. After discussing some polling from WaPo and Pew, Dionne noted:
[A] third study, a joint product of the Democratic Strategist Web site and Washington Monthly magazine, points to the work Democrats need to do with white working-class voters.
One key finding, from pollster Stan Greenberg: Such voters are “open to an expansive Democratic economic agenda” but “are only ready to listen when they think that Democrats understand their deeply held belief that politics has been corrupted and government has failed.” This calls for not only “populist measures to reduce the control of big money and corruption” but also, as Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation argued, “high-profile efforts to show that government can be innovative, accessible and responsive.”
This ambivalent feeling about government is the most important “yes, but” impulse in the American electorate, and the party that masters this blend of hope and skepticism will win the 2016 election.
Yessir. The broader lesson is that the stereotype of swing voters as Broderesque, Fournierite “centrists” looking for bipartisan compromises that don’t upset elites misses the real swing voters, who may not be as numerous on the surface as is years past, but who could move political mountains in response to the right combination of messages that take seriously their concerns.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 27, 2015
“Holes In Walker’s Electability Claims Getting Noticed”: Boilerplate Rhetoric With A Distinct Aroma Of Fraud
I’m going to do something I rarely do here at PA, but that will save time and space right now: quote extensively from an earlier post–in this case one on the different “electability” arguments of different GOP presidential candidates, as published back in March. Bear with me:
Jeb Bush’s is the traditional Median Voter Theorem-driven argument: conservatives need to avoid extremism on issues where they disagree with swing voters—you know, like immigration and education. GOP needs to trust their nominees to be ideologically reliable and give them flexibility to “run to the center.”
Rand Paul, who challenged Ted Cruz’s “winnability” yesterday, is offering what I’d call the “new coalition” argument based on picking off independents and even Democrats via an emphasis on common areas of interest like criminal justice reform and privacy. This is not a “move to the center” argument; it’s more like “move the debate” to subjects where there is a natural convergence without the need for much compromise.
And then there is Cruz, and even more strikingly Scott Walker, offering the traditional, if much-mocked, movement conservative argument that a combination of ultra-high “base” turnout, “hidden voter” turnout, and swing voters attracted by the sheer principled power of unadulterated conservative ideas is the winning formula.
Walker is far and away the most articulate about this; his motto that “you don’t have to go to the center to win the center” is a direct repudiation of the traditional view Jeb’s team is espousing. And he has what he considers proof of this ancient conservative belief: his three wins in Wisconsin in four years, which he attributes to his ability to impress and attract Obama voters (a somewhat dubious proposition given the different electorates in presidential and midterm—not to mention specials like the Wisconsin recall election of 2012—elections, but it’s at least plausible) with exactly the kind of vicious and uncompromising conservatism the base prefers.
Cruz tries to emulate the Walker appeal by claiming he put together the same kind of “big tent” coalition in Texas, though it’s not real convincing since in his one general election he ran against weak Democratic opposition in a deep red state.
You will note the little hole in Walker’s electability argument that was evident to anyone who thought about it with an awareness of turnout disparities between presidential and non-presidential elections.
Well, now that awareness is spreading. On the day of Walker’s presidential announcement, Josh Kraushaar of National Journal went deep on the subject and threw a lot of cold water on the idea that the Wisconsin governor has shown any real appeal beyond “the base.”
Walker’s success had as much to do with the political calendar and the state’s polarized electorate as it did with crossover appeal. He won only 6 percent of Democratic voters in his 2014 reelection. Many African-American voters simply stayed home during Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns, while a disproportionate number of college students sat out the contentious June 2012 recall election—which took place after campuses’ spring semester concluded. That’s not likely to repeat itself if he’s the GOP presidential nominee.
According to exit polling, young adults under the age of 30 made up 20 percent of the 2012 presidential electorate, but that number dropped to 16 percent during the recall election. White voters made up 91 percent of the recall vote, but only 86 percent in the last presidential campaign. The African-American percentage of the electorate was nearly twice as high in November 2012 (7 percent) as it was two years prior in 2010 (4 percent). In the Democratic bastion of Milwaukee County, turnout for the 2014 midterm election was only 74 percent of the vote total for the 2012 presidential election. In deeply conservative Waukesha County, that number was much higher: 83 percent.
I found it interesting that on Twitter Mike Murphy, Jeb Bush’s chief strategist, was hyping Kraushaar’s findings.
Does it matter that Walker’s electability claims may be based on a misunderstanding? Maybe not. As I noted in the March post, it’s based not just on his electoral record but on an ancient conviction of movement conservatives (dating back to the title of Phyllis Schlafly’s pro-Goldwater book of 1964: A Choice Not an Echo). As a matter of fact, many folks on the left share it; you could put together a pretty good organizing meeting for the Church of Maximum Partisan Differentiation drawing from both tribes. If challenged on his record, Walker could easily say, as Cruz is prone to do, that the GOP tried the “median voter theory” approach in the last two cycles and lost.
Still, Walker’s electability claims are much like his “economic development” program in Wisconsin: boilerplate rhetoric with a distinct aroma of fraud. Another few polls showing him getting trounced by HRC in Wisconsin should do the trick, but won’t for true believers.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 14, 2015
On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.
These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.
You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?
Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.
At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.
But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.
On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.
I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.
As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?
And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.
As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.
And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.
Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.
By: Paul Krugman, Opinion Writer, The New York Times, June 15, 2015