Why the Republicans Fear Hillary
Our own resident centrist reader, John Pearley Huffman, made mention the other day in the comments that he felt the Republicans deeply feared a Hillary Clinton run for the presidency in 2008. Eleanor Clift evidently felty the cosmic waves created by John’s forray into the zeitgeist and yesterday published an article on the topic in Newsweek. So I asked John to elaborate on his thesis:
Here’s the deal: Hillary is so far ahead of every other prospective Democratic Presidential candidate that she can afford to move to the right. Anyone else challenging her for the nomination has to run to the left in order to attract the attention of the party activists that dominate the early caucuses. Once they run left, it’s easy for the Repulicans to stigmatize them as, naturally, leftists. And once they’ve been so tarred, they’re essentially doomed in the general election.
Hillary is a ludicrously bright woman who has been nothing less than brilliant as a politician and as a Senator. She’s hanging out with Republicans like John McCain in order innoculate herself against charges she’s a leftist in the general election. While every other Democrat is preparing to run against other Democrats in the primaries, she’s already running against the Republicans.
George W. Bush was able to run to the left of his hardcore Republican base during the 2000 electionÂ — and won because “compassionate conservative” sounded like “moderate” to the general electorate. Hillary Clinton will run to the right of her hardcore base as a (I’m making this term up) “Tough Progressive” and, if she’s lucky, that will sound like “moderate” to the general electorate. In other words, Hillary Clinton is preparing to run for President using Karl Rove’s proven playbook. And that’s damned smart.
There are a lot of smart Republicans out there who can do the math: A Democrat perceived as a centrist will have a much easier time holding onto such states as Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania (Hillary’s co-sponsoring a bill with Rick Santorum for God’s sake!), and Florida.
And a Democrat who has already transcended most of the mud than can be flung at her as Hillary has, is going to be tough to smear. There isn’t a charge anyone can throw at Hillary that won’t sound like old news to the electorate. And there are no Swift Boat Veterans for Truth out there who can challenge her way-too-well known biography.
Hillary can win and the Republicans know it. And they also know that their pool of candidates doesn’t look very strong at all. Bill Frist? He’s a truly decent guy in his personal life, but a bland ideologue and lousy speechifier. John McCain? I’d vote for him in a heartbeat, but too many Republicans already hate him — he may not be nominatable. Jed Bush? We’re not a damned monarchy — he may have to wait until ’12 or ’16 just to appear decent. Mitt Romney? Too liberal for Republicans to stomach.
The reason you hear any talk of Condoleezza Rice running for President is that she’s nearly as strong as Hillary. The simmering “draft Condi” movement only exists because all the other alternatives are so unpleasant for the Republicans. And also because nominating both a woman and a black would presumably blunt the novelty of Hillary’s gender and make inroads into the African-American voting bloc.
My take on Hillary is that she’s not just cloaking herself in a veil of moderation for a strong run at the Presidency, but that she really has moderated over the years. She knows the limitations of Presidential power, she’s been building great working relationships with Republicans in the Senate because she knows the coalitions are the only way to get things done. She’s learned that its better to accept incremental progress on her agenda then being confrontational and achieving nothing. And she’s grown to appreciate the sincerity and integrity of the people who oppose her on the issues. And she’ll never mention the “vast right-wing conspiracy” ever again.
I don’t think people are quite prepared for what we may have in three years: Two women battling for the White Hours and one of them an African-American. I’m a fan of both of them. And they may well be the two best-qualified, most intelligent Presidential candidates to face off against one another since… um… Dewey and Truman in ’48? Lincoln and Douglas? Adams and Jefferson?
Personally? I like Hillary and hope she is electable. But I wouldn’t bet the farm that the GOP, the party of white men, will put an African American woman on the head of he ticket. They may give her a VP nod, but I don’t see them shooting a cruise missile through the glass ceiling like that. I’m not a Condi fan, and I think Hillary would take her to the woodshed, but bully for the GOP if they do it.
So what do you think of Hillary 2008? Let’s hear it.