Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is Hillary Stronger Without a Primary Opponent?

Today, Joe Biden made noises about running. Jerry Brown and Bernie Sanders have also stirred. Jim Webb, and, of course, Elizabeth Warren wait in the wings, pondering, perhaps planning.

Will Hillary have a challenger?

I suspect strongly she will. One of the above will say "it's for the good of the party that there be a choice." If it's Warren, she'd stand a real chance, as I've written before.

Perhaps the interesting question, though, is whether Hillary would be better (or worse) off with a primary opponent. Most pundits I listen to assume she wouldn't be, and I don't doubt Camp Clinton would just as soon dispense with the whole matter. But might she be better off? Normally, my answer would be yes.

A vigorous challenge in the primaries is almost always good for a nominee (assuming, of course, you survive the challenge itself). You get to fine tune your campaign's machinery, hiring and firing to get the optimal staff before the main event, hone your message. You get to practice debating. In Hillary's case, this will be vital, because the Republican nominee will have cut his teeth on nine debates with multiple challengers. And let's face it, Hillary is not a natural. 

Quick, what was the last time Hillary campaigned for office? Answer: 2008. One can assume she's rusty, and she's not a gifted campaigner to begin with, possessing none of her husband's elan or empathy on the trail. In short, the primaries are like spring training, and Hillary will need the innings.

Let's look at the other side, though.

Money is something most people immediately point out. Spend lots of it in the primaries, and you have less for the general. Sure, most of the time, but access to money is not a Clinton weak point. She will have gushers and gushers of it.

Then there's the pesky fact that Hillary's poll numbers always decline the more people are exposed to her. Hiding out for a few months, going to fundraisers in Hollywood while the Republicans exchange blows, seems wise.

But there's something else, something much deadlier, and it's the real reason Hillary desperately wants a coronation. Any of her would-be challengers will come at her from her left flank, and that poses a major problem. 

Now, as an aside, Naked Dollar readers might not think there's much room there, and I would agree. But there's a bit on foreign policy, where she's a sometimes-hawk, and her tight relationship with Wall Street (particularly Goldman Sachs) will be awkward, but really, the situation is that she's a liberal who will be attacked, potentially, by an uber-liberal. Given that Democrat primaries are dominated by the more liberal elements in the party, Hillary will be forced to tack left, and that is not where she wants to go, not at all. For instance, would she have to match Warren's ardor for more Obama-like redistributionist tax schemes? She might, and that would pose a huge problem in the general.

No Democrat ever gets elected president by campaigning as a liberal. Basically, they have to lie about their beliefs. This is most particularly true of Obama, who blatantly campaigned as a middle-of-the-road alternative to Republican extremism, a post-partisan man.

There is a reason this is so, and it's because not very many Americans are liberal. Oh, I know it seems like it, particularly if you live on the coasts, watch mainstream news, or have any exposure to our universities, but it's not the case. Very consistently over time, only 20% Americans self-identify as liberals. (There are far more Democrats than liberals, interestingly.)

Twenty is a long way from fifty, so to win a national election, any Democrat must crush it among moderates. (The opposite is true for Republicans - 40% of America self-identifies as conservative, so Republicans have to run base elections to win, something they seldom seem to understand.)

Hillary would love to spend the primary season staking out all sorts of unchallenged, milk-toasty moderate positions. She would raise the art of vagueness to new heights because that would be the smart thing to do, and how convenient that a platitudinous approach is right in her wheelhouse. But forced by a challenger to apply salve to the base, come the general she won't survive having to defend the things she'll have to say.

I almost always say candidates are stronger having fended off a primary challenge. This time I do not. Camp Clinton is using all its muscle to scare away the pretenders, and their instinct is right.

P.S. The Republican field should be licking it's lips, because this is a win-win for them either way. Rusty Hillary or Liberal Hillary. Game on.

1 comment:

  1. Keep hope alive. Hillary is a sharp cookie. She is going to cruise to the nomination and there is no R that can match her. Looks like a Mitt rerun at this point. The Rs are basically going to forfeit this one and try to keep some honor by winning the home state. Wall Street knows she delivers so they don't really need an R.

    Mitt with only 25% favorable rating and already 10 points behind. Already got my money down and counting it as won.