11/09/2007

Hillary Clinton: A Second Warning to Democrats

I found this Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that has information that should give Democrats some pause:

"By 50% to 35%, the poll shows, Americans prefer that a Democrat gets elected to succeed Bush next November. In a direct matchup of leading candidates, however, that margin shrinks to 46% for Clinton and 45% for Giuliani."
Read that again. A generic Democrat significantly outperforms a generic Republican, but when that Democrat is named Hillary Clinton and she's up against a Republican named Rudy Giuliani, she can only manage a tie. In other words, there is a very real risk that Hillary Clinton will turn a very winnable election for Democrats into a third consecutive Republican presidency.

A few months ago I wrote about how Hillary Clinton would be an unwise choice for Democrats. I argued that she would energize and unite a restive and fragmented GOP base, shrink the electoral map, create problems for other Democrats down the ballot, and have difficulty governing as president because of how many Republicans would love to give her payback in terms of dragging their feet when it comes to her legislative goals. However, since then, Clinton's ascent in the polls has continued and talk about her "inevitability" has increased.

Go back to the poll I just cited. If Americans prefer a Democrat in the White House by a 50-35 split, that means 2008 should be a change election. Change can mean many things: a change in leadership, a change in ideas, a change in governing style, a change in domestic priorities, a change in Iraq, and a change in foreign policy in general. It would be very hard for a Republican to run as a "change" candidate because by virtue of their party and their support for Bush's policies (even if they don't do so vocally), they represent the status quo. What could a Republican do on the campaign trail? If they bash the president, they may turn off the 25-30% of the electorate that forms the core of Bush's base. It is this 25-30% of voters that keep his approval rating from sinking much lower than 30%. But if they embrace Bush or defend his policies, they cede their ability to be the "change" candidate. Thus, Republicans are essentially trapped.

Enter Hillary Clinton. For all of Clinton's strengths, she would be a boon to Republicans because she gives them a very useful tool: a get out of Bush free card. If Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee, the election will go from being a referendum on Bush and Republican leadership to being a referendum on Hillary Clinton. Given today's sour electorate, Republicans don't stand a chance in 2008 if the election is about repudiating Bush. But if it's about "stopping Hillary," their chances of retaining the White House increase significantly. And that explains why Rudy Giuliani is performing so strongly in his quest for the GOP nomination. That also explains why he and other Republicans often lampoon and deride Hillary Clinton in their stump speeches and at the debates. Simply put, running against Hillary Clinton allows them to avoid running away from Bush.

The recent debate in Philadelphia has provided a treasure trove of warning signs for Democrats about Hillary Clinton. John Edwards has been working hard to take advantage of this. What started off as a flare-up over driver's licenses for illegal aliens has morphed into stories about "the politics of pile-on," Clinton "not having her best debate performance," and now Bill Clinton reviving his battles with Republicans from the 1990s. This unflattering media coverage gives Republicans tons of ammunition they can use against her while also giving the electorate an unpleasant reminder of all that was wrong with the 1990s and the Clintons. It also drowns out coverage of more substantive issues the other Democratic presidential candidates are talking about. Instead of talking about where the Democrats stand on Iran and Pakistan, everybody is talking about Hillary Clinton still not answering questions directly and Bill Clinton equating being asked about driver's licenses for illegal aliens to being swiftboated like John Kerry was in 2004 (which is nonsense).

Democrats interested in winning in 2008, or at least avoiding another Florida/Ohio nailbiter, would be wise to consider other candidates because there's too much evidence suggesting that she is more likely to deliver frustration and/or another electoral defeat than the change she promises.

2 comment(s):

Andy said...

While I do think Clinton would still be able to win the White House, the ceiling seems much higher for her Democratic rivals.

Anthony Palmer said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the comment. I do agree that Clinton can win the White House, but I think she will cause this race to be much tighter than it has to be for the Democrats. Political analyst Charlie Cook recently wrote a column entitled "High Floor, Low Ceiling" that addressed this very same issue.

I still contend, however, that even with a Clinton victory, it will likely be more difficult for her to actually govern effectively. Democrats would be wise to nominate someone else who could not only just win, but also govern.

By the way, I'd like to add your site to my blogroll. Your writing is quite intelligent and interesting to read.

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