Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Trump v. Clinton: Hillary’s nightmare?

Clinton has two major weaknesses as a candidate – presuming, of course, that voters can and will overlook her apparent dishonesty.  First, she has to build her own winning coalition of voters, being unlikely to reproduce Barack Obama’s and entirely unable to resurrect that which put her husband in the White House nearly a quarter century ago.  Second, and more importantly, she must overcome her own record of foreign policy failure, which is obviously tied to Barack Obama’s record and, less obviously, to George W. Bush’s record as well.
In both cases, Donald Trump presents significant problems for her.
The first of these advantages is that Trump appeals in a unique and powerful way to white, working-class voters, the demographic group that used to determine presidential elections, but which has, by and large, been abandoned by both parties and by the Democrats especially.
It is worth noting here that these voters still decided elections as recently as a decade or two ago.  Indeed, they decided both of Bill Clinton’s two victories in the 1990s and George W. Bush’s two victories after that.  But their power waned, and Barack Obama became the first president in history to be elected while losing this demographic.  Obama assembled his own coalition that was far different from that assembled by any of his predecessors, even his Democratic predecessor.  Indeed, the contrasts between the demographic characteristics of Bill’s winning coalition and that of Obama are stunning.  Bill was the last Democrat to win anything in the South, where the white, working-class, Scots-Irish or “Jacksonian” Democrats still dominate.  Obama, by contrast, won without any support at all from the Scots-Irish working class, but instead won by turning out minority voters in record numbers.
Now, it has always been doubtful that Hillary would be able to reassemble the Obama coalition.  For a variety of reasons, she offers far less to minority voters than Obama did.  Additionally, after eight years of Obama’s broken promises and failures, many of these voters have serious doubts about the ability of the political process to address their concerns, meaning that they may well stay home on Election Day.  In order to win, therefore Hillary Clinton will have to find at least some votes that Obama couldn’t, which is to say among the white-working class – who are now dedicated Trump supporters.
The second of Hillary Clinton’s problems stems from her tenure in the Obama administration.  Her service in the Obama State Department will forever be linked with the word “Benghazi.”  Politically speaking, it doesn’t matter whether anything could have been done differently or if the Americans killed there could have been saved.  All that matters is that Hillary didn’t get Ambassador Christopher Stevens the security upgrades he requested, that she went home and slept through the attack, that she allegedly lied to the families of the dead about the cause of the attacks (and then allegedly lied about lying to the families), and then blew up at her Congressional inquisitors when they asked for answers.  Even more than Obama, Hillary owns Benghazi.
She also owns Libya more broadly and, by extension, the Obama debacle in Iraq, which gave rise, at least in the immediate sense to the Islamic State.  They too happened during her tenure and thus taint her record.
By contrast, Donald Trump may be the only politician in the country free to speak openly about the foreign policy disasters associated with both of the last two presidents, both parties, and thus both of the primary fields.  In the recent GOP debate in Las Vegas, Trump railed against the last fifteen years of foreign policy interventionism, asking “What do we have now?  We have nothing.  We’ve spent $3 trillion and probably much more – I have no idea what we’ve spent.  Thousands and thousands of lives, we have nothing.  Wounded warriors all over the place who I love, we have nothing for it.”  He makes a point, one which Mrs. Clinton cannot easily rebut.
In short, Donald Trump may not be an ideal Republican and would certainly represent a serious gamble as president.  But he may also be the perfect candidate to take on Hillary Clinton, the only one in either party who can hit her where it hurts.
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