Column: Dems could get Trumped
Last semester, the Republican primary race took a turn for the strange and hateful. Then it took another turn. And another. And another. And another…
With Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson’s dominance in the Republican field, the media narrative of the primaries has come to stress a Republican field in disarray set against a powerful Democratic candidate. Crowd-sourced data largely agrees: The betting markets have the odds of a Democratic victory at 63 percent and CNN’s (non-gambling) prediction market sets it at 60 percent as of press time.
What they’re ignoring is that, if not for the chaos on the other side, the Democratic field would look historically weak.
Let’s start with the non-Clintons. Senator Bernie Sanders was literally born before Pearl Harbor. He will be 75 on Election Day and 79 by the time he finished his first term. If he somehow ran for and won re-election, he would be 83 by the time he left office. Incidentally, the life expectancy for males born today is 79. I like the man. It’s hard to argue that he doesn’t mean what he says and he’s serious about changing how things work in America. But I think he’s just too old to convince a majority of Americans he can handle the most taxing job in the nation.
This all ignores, of course, that he has yet to clearly establish why the electoral forces that led to George McGovern’s resounding defeat don’t apply to him.
Martin O’Malley was mayor of the wonderful paradise of unity we now call Baltimore. While mayor, he built a police state that arrested thousands of people for minor offenses. His administration also helped inspire a nice little show called The Wire.
Even with all of that said, I’m not sure Hillary Clinton is really a better choice. The party and the country have just changed too much in the last two decades. In 1992, the rationale for Bill Clinton was that the party needed to steer back to the center. The Democrats hadn’t won consecutive presidential elections since the early 1960s, and had only won one race in the 24 years before that election. The Reagan Revolution had pulled moderate whites into the Republican fold, and the Civil Rights Act started the Southern exodus to the party of Lincoln.
Bill Clinton wanted to remake the fairly radical Democrats into a center-right party. He ran with two Southerners on the ticket and prioritized the economy over social issues. He wanted abortion to be rare, signed a law that forbade same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage benefits and instituted Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Beyond that he ramped up the War on Crime that helped lead to today’s mass incarceration problem, shrunk the safety net and balanced the budget while expanding free trade with Canada and Mexico.
The gambit worked. The Democratic Party won two terms in office and only narrowly lost out on a third. Bill Clinton won states like Montana and Georgia that it would be nearly impossible to imagine a Democrat taking today.
But that was the '90s. Things have changed. The Tea Party has lured rural whites back to the Republicans and the once-powerful Blue Dog caucus has disappeared. In exchange, the Democrats won two presidential races with the help of high turnout from people of color and college students: the so-called Obama coalition. Now the party’s winning strategy is less about being acceptable to moderates and conservatives and more about mobilizing and inspiring low-turnout groups.
Hillary Clinton seems to be aware of this. She’s changed her stance or announced a position on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Keystone pipeline, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, mass incarceration, the Iraq War, Wall Street regulation, marijuana and the Trans-Pacific Partnership while preparing to run for the presidency.
Even then, she hasn’t exactly excited the coalition the party needs. Most Democrats might prefer her in the polls, but few are terribly enthusiastic about her candidacy. Skepticism remains about how serious she is about her stances. Bill Clinton instituted many of the programs Hillary now opposes, and at the time she seemed to like them.
There are also a fair few areas where she isn’t liberal at all. Despite being reluctant at best to hand over her own communications, she is one of the NSA’s biggest cheerleaders. She still opposes reinstituting some of the regulations the last Clinton administration tore down.
Then there are the scandals. Even if the email saga and Benghazi amount to nothing in the end, there are still reasons that liberals should be wary of her. The Clinton Foundation took millions from corporations and foreign governments dealing with the State Department while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. She’s gotten rich speaking to the investment firms and corporations she now claims to hate. Last week an independent inspector claimed that Clinton’s State Department handled Freedom of Information Act requests improperly.
Those matter. They matter because the point of “big government liberalism” is that the federal government can handle some matters better than the free market or the states. In order for that to work, people have to trust the government and it has to work smoothly. Clinton’s ability to turn anything she touches into scandal has led to a majority of Americans not finding her trustworthy. Why should a nation that already distrusts the government hand more power to her, a politician they really don’t trust?
Simply put, Hillary Clinton is a terrible spokesperson for liberalism and probably can’t motivate the Obama coalition to turn out because of it. And if their coalition stays at home, the Democrats could get Trumped.