Volume 1, #18
August 24, 2007
HILLARY’S STRATEGY AND WHY IT’S WORKING
The contours of the Democratic race for the presidential nominee are now clear: Hillary boasts of her experience, derivative though it may be, while Obama speaks of the urgent need for new directions in
our political process. While Clinton speaks repetitively of her ability to “hit the ground running on day one” as president, Obama laments that all our nation seems able to summon is the tired alternative of a new Clinton to succeed the latest Bush.
What is increasingly evident is that Obama’s attacks on Hillary aren’t working. In fact, the Iraq “surge” is doing a lot better than Barack is; he’s going nowhere fast in the polls – he’s still at about 25% – 13 points behind Hillary. And, John Edwards, who is pushing the same message of change is stuck at about 13%. Why? Isn’t this the Democratic Party, where novelty is valued and new ideas are attractive? Apparently not.
Viewed through the retrospective of the Bush Administration, the Democrats nostalgically remember Bill Clinton as a good president. But the fact is that he was never that popular with the party rank and file and he was particularly distrusted by its vocal and increasingly dominant left wing. So why is Hillary able to use her claim to this inherited record to all but nullify the traditional Democratic affection for change?
The key lies not in the record of the Bill and Hillary Clinton Administration, but in the record of the Bill and Hillary Clinton candidacies. While he may not look like a fearless liberal leader in the mode of FDR or Harry Truman or even LBJ, Bill Clinton has one clear claim to the affections of his party and its loyalists: Despite all odds, he won again and again.
So, it is the Clinton electoral and political history, and not so much its governing record, that is broadly appealing to Democrats. When Hillary speaks of her experience, it is really a reference to her ability
to survive the Republican attack machine far more than any knowledge she may have of the workings of American government which so attract primary voters.
Both fans and critics of the Clinton Administration and of its record have to concede the point that it excelled at survivability. Think about it. If there is one trait which is etched in the political history of this couple, it has been their ability to repeatedly overcome adversity and triumph – and this is precisely what the Democratic primary voters are looking for in their candidate. Above ideology, above foreign policy, above their attitudes toward the war, above their social vision, Democrats are passionate about the notion that their nominee in 2008 be a winner.
That’s their major concern. So obsessed are they with replacing the Bush Administration that they have fast-forwarded past the primaries and are already zeroing in on how the candidates bidding for their attention will fare against the GOP in November of next year.
Can Obama stand up to the likes of Karl Rove? Can Edwards, with his nice guy routine, hope to defeat the Republican Party? Democrats doubt it. But Hillary can and Bill sure did.
Consider the Clintons’ record for survival:
- They recovered from the draft and Jennifer Flowers’ scandals and a defeat in New Hampshire to win the Democratic nomination in 1992.
- They came back from the most devastating defeat in a mid-term Congressional election since Truman lost Congress in 1946 to win a second term.
- Impeached and disgraced in the Lewinsky scandal, Clinton staggered on to the end of his term and rehabilitated his name, albeit with the indispensable assistance of President George W. Bush who raised him to a level of respectability in the wake of the Tsunami.
- Bill spent the last hours of his presidency giving out controversial pardons that triggered a criminal investigation and signing a plea agreement with the Special Prosecutor.
- The Clintons were criticized – even by the liberal media – for taking – and, indeed, soliciting – hundreds of thousands of dollars of expensive gifts as they left the White House.
- Hillary’s Finance Chairman was indicted and it was disclosed that one of her closest aides, Kelly Craighead, accepted an expensive Rolex watch from convicted felon Peter Paul, who arranged illegal campaign contributions to Hillary’s Senate campaign.
- Having started her Senate term bedeviled by the pardons of the FALN terrorists, the New Square Jewish leaders, Mark Rich, and the drug dealer and others her brothers were paid to lobby for, Hillary rose in the Senate and coasted to an easy re-election.
The message for the Democrats is clear: These folks may or may not know how to govern, but they sure know how to win. And a winner is what the Democrats want above all else in 2008.
Meanwhile, on the playing field of the Democratic nominating process, it is fun to watch how the
DEMS SCAMPER TO COPE WITH IRAQ SUCCESS
They were well positioned to exploit failure in Iraq, but how can the Party cope with success? With the casualty lists shrinking and the level of violence abating in Iraq, the Bush-Petreus troop surge is increasingly
looking like at least a short term success.
Even Hillary now admits that it’s working in Anbar Province , while Obama concedes that it’s lowering the level of violence in Baghdad. Each hastens to reassert their opposition to the war with Obama and continues
to call it a “total failure.” Hillary maintains that the surge comes too late and we should still get our troops home.
The contortion by Hillary is the latest in her pretzel-like twists and turns on Iraq. She’s been for the war, against the war, for the surge, against the surge, for troop withdrawal, against troop withdrawal. Now she
says that the surge is what she recommended years ago and that it is working now –but that it is too late to make a difference, now.
The fact is, of course, that Hillary is determined not to let any daylight grow between her and the left of the party over Iraq even though all her instincts – and her correct perception of the positions she must take to win the general election — move her to the right on the issue. But she can’t afford to go there when the Democratic left is watching her every word.
The main impact of the successes in Iraq has been to delete the issue from the forefront of the Democratic campaign. Just as accusations against Bush on the economy and on the budget deficit used to dominate
Democratic rhetoric and are now completely absent, so we hear less and less about Iraq from the Democratic aspirants. We hear a lot more about health insurance and global climate change and a plethora of boutique issues, but very little about the core issues that once animated their agenda.
DEMOCRATS DON’T LIKE CONGRESS, EITHER
The latest Fox News Poll shows that national approval ratings for Congress are down to 24%, almost at the historic lows. But, interestingly, Democrats only give the Congress, now controlled by their own party,
an approval rating of 26%.
Why are Democrats turned off their own Congress? Because their party has not delivered. The two issues which animated the ascension of Pelosi and Reid to power in the 2006, Iraq and ethics, are still hanging fire in the new Democratic Congress. Very little has changed as a result of the partisan reversal and Democrats are as angry at their Congressional leaders as Republicans are.
There has been no serious lobbying reform yet, earmarks are still in vogue, Congress is in session only a few days a week and is currently on a two month break. Pelosi has not been able to pass the reforms that she
touted when she was elected Speaker. In most respects, its business as usual in Congress. And the voters – Democrats and Republicans – are sick of it.
With vulnerable Republican Senate seats coming up in 2008 in Virginia (if Warner retires), Oregon, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Maine, the key question is whether the disenchantment of Democratic voters with the
performance of their Congressional majority will carry over to make them less likely to vote against Republican Senators.
It’s too early to tell, but the disenchantment of Democrats with their Congress is an important phenomenon.
By contrast, despite their disagreements with him over immigration reform, Republicans are hanging in for George W. Bush. Sixty-three percent say they approve of the job he is doing.
Whether the Democrats’ negative views of their Congressional majority will carry over into the 2008 election or not, they certainly presage a major split that is likely to widen among Democrats between their perceptions of what their party should do and its actual record. It is a truism that Democrats form a firing squad in a circle and the current lack of party loyalty for their legislative representatives augers ill for Democratic unity.
Fred Thompson just handed Rudy Giuliani an issue that can kill his yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign. Campaigning in Iowa. Asked if he would pledge not to raise taxes if elected President. Thompson demurred. Signing the pledge has acquired almost biblical status among GOP conservatives
and Fred’s reluctance to do so will be seen as an apostasy on the right.
Thompson also tried to put ideological distance between himself and Giuliani by attacking New York City’s strict gun control policies. Clearly Thompson has fertile ground to plough on the NRA’s issues.
Giuliani is considerably to the left of the GOP on all sorts of gun issues.
But taxes remain the core issue for the Republican primary voter. If Giuliani finds a way to flank Thompson on the right over this issue, he could do very, very well in the primaries.
GIULIANI STILL LEADS IN GOP RACE
The latest Gallup Poll, completed on August 16th, shows Rudy Giuliani maintaining his substantial lead over all of the other Republican candidates. Rudy remains at 32%. Fred Thompson is in second place with 19% – having lost 2 points in the past two weeks. Romney has moved up from 8% to 14%, reflecting the Iowa Straw Poll and his advertising campaign, and McCain has fallen from 16% to 11%. (In May, he was at 24%!) Mike Huckabee has moved from 2% to 4%.
With McCain falling apart, Fred Thompson appears to be the only serious opponent for Rudy. But, given Thompson’s tepidness in entering the race and his lackluster performance at his first outing in Iowa, Rudy doesn’t seem to have much to worry about.
Fred’s been throwing negatives at him on gun control, but, so far, there’s been no change in his ratings.
While the two candidates are at opposite poles on many core issues, they do share one thing in common: the national press has savaged both of their wives. Geri Thompson has been widely described in the mainstream press as a “trophy wife” and unflattering details of her involvement in Fred’s undeclared campaign have been routinely leaked. She occasionally delivers pizza to the staff, but also takes attendance. Hmmmm. Already, she’s been blamed for the short tenures of two campaign managers. Meanwhile, Judith Giuliani has been skewered by Vanity Fair for insisting on sitting next to her husband at dinner parties (apparently a mortal sin!) and for advising him on health care policies (She’s a nurse)
Neither wife has been campaigning with their husbands.
But while the Republican wives are fodder for all kinds of stories, no one writes much about possible first husband Bill Clinton these days.
There are, however, quite a few stories about the wives of the Democratic candidates, who are openly savaging their husband’s opponents. Elizabeth Edwards described Obama’s position on Iraq as “holier than thou” and charged that Hillary didn’t really advocate women’s issues as strongly as her husband. Then Michelle Obama hit a lob to Hillary when
she said that a candidate for president can’t clean up the White House if they can’t clean up their own house.
Maybe we should have a candidate’s wives/husbands debate!
McGann and Dick Morris 2007. Reprints with permission only***