Sunday, July 31, 2016

For Hillary, a siren song from the right

Conservative pundits Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat argue cogently in today's NYT that Hillary Clinton is yielding nothing on policy grounds to Republican-leaning voters who might consider voting for her because they're appalled by Trump.

That's true. On abortion, on crime, on federal spending and taxes, Clinton is leading, and speaking for, a Democratic party moved well to the left. Nonetheless, there are good reasons why Clinton is not, and arguably cannot, "run to the center" for the general election, as nominees in normal elections do.

1. All other things being equal, Clinton does not need to win over more ideological conservatives than Obama did. Enough habitual Republican voters will likely be disturbed enough by Trump to stay home to put her ahead of Obama on that front. And Obama, temperamental moderate and pragmatist though he is, was cast as radically liberal by conservative media.

2. Trump has revealed that an awful lot of Republican voters have no allegiance to core Republican economic policies like massive tax cuts and social spending cuts.  Clinton is to his right on trade, more willing to acknowledge that "fair" trade deals have value.

3. In this moment of ideological fluidity, well-articulated left-side populism might win more white working class voters than centrism.  See Trump's siren song to Sanders supporters. In my view, Elizabeth Warren has a more compelling economic narrative than Sanders'.  It's this: since the 80s, monied interests, via the Republican party, have knocked out three pillars of postwar middle-class prosperity: union and employee leverage, tax fairness, and effective regulation. Hence the 1% has grabbed all the growth. As I've suggested in prior posts, Clinton could reverse-engineer this story to explain how she'll boost middle class incomes and security, with policies designed to 1) increase workers' share of profits, 2) invest new tax revenue to increase shared prosperity via investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc., and 3) rein in banks and the shadow banking system, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect employee rights, etc. Clinton name-checks a host of specific policies that fit this agenda but, to my ear, does not explain how they all fit together.

4. Clinton has a stronger imperative to shore up various parts of the Obama coalition than to pick up new voters. She did very well with African Americans in the primaries, and they have strong reason to fear Trump (as do we all), but she is not Obama, and also will have to overcome various voter suppression measures enacted since 2012 (though some have just been rolled back by the courts). While Ponnuru suggests that she is missing an opportunity to address potential Republican voters' anxiety about crime, she has a counter-imperative to motivate African American voters with her sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement.  Yes, she could acknowledge the very recent uptick in violent crime in some cities, and that we don't yet know what's causing it, and also push that discussion toward gun control. But Dems would be crazy not to emphasize that worry about "crime" per se is literally trumped up -- and conflated with fears about terrorism, which also segues into gun control (and foreign policy, where she has the decided advantage of not being manifestly insane).

More problematic for Clinton than the black vote, more likely, is disaffection among Sanders supporters, particularly young voters, who came out in droves for Obama. Her approval rating among voters age 18-29% is just 31%, according to Gallup. To win them, I think a Warren style economic story could be powerful.

Finally, there's the minor matter of the merits. Elizabeth Warren is telling the truth: for forty years, almost of the benefit of increased productivity and economic growth have gone to the wealthiest. Labor's share of corporate profits has shrunk; the percentage of Americans in the middle of the income distribution has shrunk; college, housing and healthcare costs have far outpaced the official inflation rate. It's time to take back what was taken.


  1. I think there's another problem with trying to craft policies that might appeal to Republicans. If the recent past is any guide, Republicans will never, ever vote for anything proposed by Clinton, nor will they be open to compromise. At least as of today, Mann and Ornstein's indictment still holds true:

    “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” The only thing that's changed since Mann and Ornstein debuted their diagnosis is that now the "Freedom Caucus" is an insurgency within the insurgency that makes it even harder to do anything but avoid defaulting on the national debt or shutting down the government, and even that is extremely hard.

    President Clinton won't be able to change that. If Paul Ryan can't control his caucus, how could Hillary? If he announced he was setting aside "the Hastert Rule" how long would he remain Speaker? If there's ever going to be minimal comity between a Republican House and a Democratic President, it's the Republicans who have to move the farthest.

  2. I think you both make really good points. I can hardly get past the fact that with a person like Trump as the opponent there would be any way Clinton could lose. But I understand no one says that.
    I am not sure where to look to find out who would be the Republican candidate if Trump dropped out or was dumped. I heard Stuart Stevens say on MSNBC last night that the Republicans could replace him with Pence. But why would it not be Cruz? It seems different for the VP to be selected to replace/assist the president than for him to be selected to replace the candidate. That takes the voters completely out of the nominating, I think! I know very little.