I think Hillary Clinton has learned (or believes she has learned) a great deal from Barack Obama over the years, though none of it has to do with statesmanship. It has to do with how a presidential candidate positions herself with the electorate.
From all indications and a recent Washington Post article on the subject, Hillary’s strategy is to emulate Obama’s appeal to his leftist base and his arrogant disrespect for any constitutional limitations on his authority.
Hillary is covering all the bases of the Democratic base — gays, blacks, Hispanics, women, teachers unions. She has announced her undying fealty to same-sex marriage. There is no evolving for her. It’s as if she (or her husband) never felt or said otherwise. She has come down hard on incarceration policies. And surely, everyone noticed her shameless move on immigration, promising to be even more extreme and lawless than Obama has been. I know, I know, she said she’d follow the law, but that’s like a school shooter’s bragging about his gun licenses.
In short, for now, anyway, Hillary is doubling down on Obama’s extreme leftism, even though the country is in shambles, across the board, as a result of them.
This development is more than a little ironic, considering that husband Bill has long enjoyed (as opposed to earned, in my opinion) a reputation as a centrist or moderate. Yes, the deficit went down on his watch, but Newt Gingrich had a thing or two to do with that.
But the point is not to re-litigate Bill’s record. Rather, it is that Hillary appears ready to abandon his template. That’s so ’90s. He isn’t following it anymore, either. The country has gotten a lot crazier since then, and Democratic candidates seem to be able to say far more outrageous things and get away with them. The media, though many of them don’t particularly like Hillary, are still going to circle the wagons around any Democratic candidate in the general election.
What Hillary obviously believes — for good reason — is that Democratic candidates are not held accountable by their party or its base for their failures in office. As long as they keep preaching the right things — the red meat of divisive identity politics — to their various constituencies, they will be fine. It doesn’t even seem to matter if you don’t fully believe all the things you’re saying or that you’re mainly saying them to pander. What matters to those in the Democratic Party’s base is that they believe they own you; your sincerity, authenticity and personal integrity are secondary.
Undoubtedly, part of the reason Hillary is coming out so far left is that she wants to ward off any possible challenge from the left, including leftist darling Elizabeth Warren. Another reason may be that she believes the country, under Obama’s leadership, has actually turned the corner toward political leftism and that she can be the beneficiary of it. If that is her belief, she might not moderate herself for the general election, should she, despite her voluminous and robust scandals, become the nominee.
Most people seemed surprised when Obama put almost all of his eggs in the leftist basket in the 2012 presidential campaign against Mitt Romney. He was breaking the long-established, ironclad practice in presidential politics: Appeal to your base in the primaries, and tack center for the general election. Obama’s strategy was to ignite his base while focusing on voter turnout in pivotal states, and it worked.
The question is whether the success of this strategy is unique to Obama because of his race or otherwise or whether it can work for Hillary and other Democratic candidates as well. Hillary doesn’t have the race card in her deck, but she does have the gender one — though gender politics is a far greater gamble than racial politics.
The media’s Democratic bias will help Hillary if she decides to go that route, but if she were to choose to head back to the center for the general, the media would also pull out all the stops to mitigate any damage accruing to her based on any extreme statements made by her during the primaries.
Hillary’s decision on whether to follow Obama’s lead by continuing left in the general election campaign would be based on her assessment of whether the country has indeed turned decidedly more liberal or whether she thinks that strategy could pay off in any event. It did for Obama largely because he was uncommonly effective at energizing his base and because Republicans had lost their identity.
What concerns me most about all this is that the conventional wisdom among Republican strategists is that GOP candidates have to be liberal lite to win — and that they also need to govern like that. The reality is that it’s time they figured out they need to energize their base, too, and simultaneously do what is right for the country by returning home to their conservative roots.
Republicans don’t have the luxury of playing games with their base, which is not so gullible, unprincipled or forgiving. They need to give us a true alternative to Obama’s warped and destructive agenda, no matter which direction Hillary were to go.
I’m betting that even if the country has moved a bit left, it would be happy to sprint back to the right, if only our side would show some principled leadership for a change and give the voters something to be excited about — like America.