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Democrats Should Want Elizabeth vs. Jeb. If It’s Hillary vs. Jeb, We Have Problems

This is cross-posted from my diary at DailyKos. You can find charts, graphs, and videos I embedded over there. Go over there if you have time and vote in my poll!!


It is my firm belief that, if Republicans run a centrist Republican such a Jeb Bush in 2016, we as Democrats should prefer an Elizabeth Warren vs. Jeb general election battle, and not Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb. If the Republicans do run Jeb, and as I explain below that is pretty likely, then I fear there will not be a strong enough contrast in voters’ eyes to make this an easy election for Hillary.

In contrast, I think a Warren vs. Bush electoral battle would mean a much clearer victory for the Democrats by a more significant margin. This is an increasingly progressive and populist electorate, and the perception (right or not) is that Hillary isn’t either of these things. I personally believe Hillary is progressive on more issues than not, but in terms of public opinion, she rarely is associated with the progressive wing of the party- and, like it or not, this is the only thing that matters. In the case of the majority of the public thinking she’s a strong enough progressive, policy positions don’t really matter all that much.

In an anti-Wall Street climate, I don’t think Hillary’s less than candid stance on deregulation or her reassurance to donors that that she thinks such anti-Wall Street sentiment is foolish will garner enough enthusiasm among the Democratic base to the extent that Elizabeth Warren would be able to. Considering how Warren’s recent book tour has also meant a significant increase in national visibility in national media and a friendly reception among an exorbitantly wider audience, there is plenty of time for her to become a viable candidate well before 2016. With Warren’s new book, A Fighting Chance, being number two on Amazon’s best-seller list for 10 days straight, I’d say Warren will only be more and more recognizable with every month that goes by.

Like it or not, Elizabeth Warren would provide Hillary an unimaginably tough primary battleshould Warren choose to run. And it is this that would make Warren stronger against any Republican come election day 2016. This is compounded by the fact that 59% of Democrats view socialism more favorably than capitalism, with 43% of lower-income voters agreeing. And with Pew finding that 62% of Americans prefer to self-identify as conservative and 47% of Democrats having a positive reaction to libertarianism– I’d be scared for Hillary going up against a centrist libertarian or a progressive libertarian, both labels describing Jeb Bush.

The overall electorate reacts to the word Progressive more positively than to the word liberal– 66% to 50%, and surprisingly 55% of conservatives have a positive reaction to the label Progressive. This hardly indicates that Hillary would be a clear preference to Elizabeth Warren in 2016.

I believe the people who believe that Hillary is the most pragmatic choice are ignoring several key factors- the first of which consists of a few different layers. As I alluded to above, the national electorate is increasingly divided between economic populists among self-identified Democrats, and economic left-libertarians and libertarian populists among self-identified Republicans. It doesn’t matter if the latter two labels don’t make much sense- it just matters that smart Republican strategists know how to exploit this cognitive dissonance.

If the kingmakers of the Democratic Party still cling to to the outmoded belief that the shadows of the DLC’s legacy can still win in general elections based on wasteful battles over pragmatism, the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters will sit out of future general elections. These voters will concede the elections due to the lack of enthusiasm in the absence of any meaningful contrast (again, in perception) for as long as they put up a Centrist Democrat against a Centrist Republican. Or, even worse, some Democratic voters clinging to the notion that the GOP can be mainstreamed or even moved to the left- which they are already doing- may choose to be in a base that is listening to them (aka not Democrats), be it self-described Independents or the Republican “left”.

The traditional conservative principles of cutting taxes and cutting the deficit are becoming vastly unpopular with most of the electorate- Democrats, Independents, and swing voters. The only ones holding onto these principles are Centrist Democrats and Republicans.

Ironically, the more the Democratic establishment ignores the progressive shift in their base, the more Democratic voters withdraw their support. The more voters withdraw support, the Democratic Party establishment relies more on corporate donations to offset the disappearance of progressive grassroots support. As we’ve seen all too often, this leads to pro-business, anti-progressive policy platforms.

This clearly shows the danger of the Democratic establishment and the Progressives working independently of one another. Regardless of them knowing it or not, Third Way’s founding in 2005 was precipitated not by progressive or liberal Democrats, but because the Democratic establishment itself- removed from its voters- was already steering to the center-right.

I’m not saying Third Way or other Centrist Democratic groups did not start out with good intentions. I’m merely saying that as the decoupling of the establishment from the progressive movement became more pronounced, the louder and heavier the establishment fell to its knees in front of Wall Street.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows liberals overwhelmingly identify Wall Street and “Big Business” as institutions that personally harm them. This suggests a candidate who is willing to go up against Wall Street will be a formidable candidate against a less vocal candidate in the primary.

The electorate is not particularly fond of Wall Street or “Big Business- to say the very least. And the view that Wall Street and “Big Business” personally harms them has broadened over constituencies of both major parties, in addition to Independents.This broadening and growth of public opinion has boosted calls for campaign finance reform.

As we have seen, Jeb Bush is being courted by wealthy donors voters associated with Wall Street and “Big Business”. This would suggest that voters will be suspicious of Bush relative to a more vocal opponent of Wall Street or “Big Business” buying our elections. Unfortunately for Hillary, she is not such a candidate. Hillary has always had a tepid response to Wall Street and Big Business pumping in exorbitant sums of money into campaign coffers- and one large reason is that she has always depended on Wall Street and wealthy donors pumping in those exorbitant sums into her campaigns.

In addition to invitations to speak in front of gatherings of Wall Street executives for which she is paid large sums of money and at which she calls anti-Wall Street sentiment as foolish, Hillary will not necessarily pick up the voters suspicious of Jeb’s ties to Wall Street and wealthy donors. And for those who point to Hillary’s tepid and sporadic support for campaign fiance reform as reason enough for voters to distinguish Wall Street money behind Hillary and behind Jeb, voters would simply not see a difference come the 2016 campaign ads denigrating both candidates’ ties to Wall Street. This is compounded by the fact, as mentioned above, that Hillary’s stance on deregulation is viewed through the lens of her centrism and that of her husband’s.

This leaves an open space for a more vocal proponent of regulatory enforcement of large Wall Street financial institutions, a more outspoken advocate of campaign finance reform, and someone that is seen as generally more populist. A candidate like this is more likely to pick up votes of those suspicious of Jeb’s ties to Wall Street, and this points to the one other name that is becoming more and more popular in 2016 speculation: Elizabeth Warren. Considering that Warren has also quite visibly been calling on Hillary to get tough on too-big-to-fail banks to largely no avail, Hillary has a lot more to go to gain the trust of a growing segment of Democrats, Independents, and the fast-expanding ‘Republican Left’. The onus is not on Warren to win support among these constituencies or campaign for their votes if she decides to run. She would immediately shore up the votes of the constituencies tired of Wall Street-funded candidates, particularly Jeb. The onus is on Hillary. And unfortunately for her 2016 prospects, she is trailing far behind in that regard.

The aforementioned growing constituency supporting measures to push Wall Street out of our elections. Naturally, there is support among Democrats of getting rid of big donations to candidates, marked by a growing base of Independents and Republicans who agree. Surprisingly, more Republicans than not are willing to forego their party’s support of tax cuts if this means that tax revenues match small donations to campaigns. This suggests that if Elizabeth runs in 2016, voters will overwhelmingly associate their evolving views of Wall Street, regulation, and campaign finance reform with her, and not nearly as much with Hillary or Jeb. If the Democrats want to capitalize on this and make sure Jeb doesn’t split the Democratic or Independent ticket and even score some crossovers from Centrist Republicans- or at least depress their vote- the Democrats will have to realize Elizabeth would be better suited for the race than Hillary.

A more vocal proponent of campaign finance reform, such as Elizabeth Warren, would have an easier victory over Jeb Bush than Hillary could.

Either way, the Democratic Party will ignore the chance to capitalize on the much-needed leftward shift of the Republican base and the appeal this has for a sizable chunk of Democratic voters. They did this when Ross Perot ran against Bill Clinton and needlessly gave Perot the share of the vote that could have been his, especially when Clinton refused to take a strong stance against deregulation while Perot did. To reiterate, Perot voters were going to vote for Clinton anyway, had Clinton not gravely miscalculated by driving right past them towards the Party they were defecting from. Clinton dragged Perot’s legacy right on through his dropout in 1992- and if it weren’t for Clinton’s first few years of his presidency, I contend that there would be absolutely no mention of former Perot voters cropping up here and there in today’s climate- and certainly no angst for third parties every other election cycle.

If it weren’t for centrist Democrats, Republicans would not even be able to dream of mobilizing modern-day versions of Perot voters- and Ralph Nader would certainly not have siphoned votes from Al Gore in 2000, the implications of which we are still feeling now. To be sure, I certainly don’t endorse the centrism Gore ran on, as much of this analysis shows- I am simply saying Gore wouldn’t have even contemplated running as a ‘southern centrist’ had the Democrats not hallucinate phantoms telling them to turn right. Nader wouldn’t have even been a blip on the national radar.

The 1994 Republican landslide in Congress would not have been possible without Perot’s surprising electoral performance in 1992- Bill Clinton needlessly gave Perot a share of the vote that belonged to the Democrats. The 1994 “Republican Revolution” would have never happened if Clinton hadn’t governed to the center-right.

Contrary to many pundits among the party establishment (I’m talking about Third Way, PPI, et al), Democratic voters have increasingly become less patient with their own party’s capitulation to a shrinking base of fiscal conservatives, who have given in to the liberal base plenty more times than the establishment realizes.

As Pew pointed out in their 8/20/13 poll, 50% of Republicans as a whole support raising the minimum wage, while only 47% oppose it. Lower-income Republicans who have not completed college favor a raise by 58%. On top of this, a growing base of younger Republican voters are shifting their views to the left and adopting traditionally progressive social issues much faster than even the economic ones– 56% of Republicans under 45 support same-sex marriage, 50% are for legalization of marijuana. According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, 37% of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without requirements, while 72% would support a pathway if it included paying back-taxes and a criminal background check- and that total is a 35% increase from most earlier polls. This is contrary to Republican members of Congress emphasizing border security- and this will likely cost them at least significant losses in primaries if pro-immigration Republicans appear on campaign trails in future elections. Establishment Republicans and their messiahs- such as Jeb Bush and Steve LaTourette– are growing keenly aware of this, and mobilizing as such. Beltway Democrats seem to be the only ones who are not aware of this.

Inexplicably, the Democratic party establishment has been far removed from many of these overall trends. Which leaves a crucial gap that grassroots activist groups are filling at an exorbitantly fast rate- such as Adam Green’s Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the nationally-expanding Working Families Party. Sadly, Democrats cannot win by simply relying on such groups without establishment support, which is slowly dawning on a precious few Democratic politicians. Instead of diminishing insurgent progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and seeing her as a threat, the Democratic establishment should recognize that this insurgency reflects a genuine shift in public opinion and work with her in a more coordinated fashion than they are doing now.

Particularly if the GOP is disciplined and runs a centrist candidate such as Jeb Bush these and other factors suggest that Hillary would have at the very least a tough battle ahead of her. Perception has it that Hillary isn’t far enough to the left of Jeb to strike a winnable contrast. And it is this perception that will put Jeb in striking distance of Hillary. If anyone doubts that the Republican establishment or Republican voters are seriously considering Bush, read this and this.

The longer a political party doesn’t win The White House, the more likely they are to nominate centrist candidates. Based on this and the fact that the GOP is faced with the prospect of 12 to 16 years locked out of the Presidency, it is more likely they will support a centrist Republican such as Jeb Bush over a more conservative candidate.

Polls show that the majority of self-identified conservatives, even strongly conservative ones, would not mind seeing Jeb Bush as President , as Nate Silver pointed out in assessing how Jeb’s stance on education and Common Core.

and immigration wouldn’t be a notable negative in the primaries, which would embolden Republican donors and the party establishment  to push him to run even more than they have been.

Here are a few facts to make you pause if you believe Hillary would easily trounce Bush without a progressive shift in her own positions:

Jeb Bush is behind Hillary by only three points nationally- Hillary’s 47 to Jeb’s 44–  and not even 5 percent nationally in many other polls

He is behind only by one or two points alternatively in North Carolina, according to Public Policy Polling.

Alternatively two points and 5 points behind Clinton in Florida according to polls done by Quinnipiac.

He’s four points behind in Iowa according to Huffington Posts Pollster.

only 11 points in Michigan, also according to Huffington Post’s Pollster.

All of which have been swing states/purple states. And there is plenty of time to close those distances.

On top of:

Jeb Bush having an average approval rating of 56 percent throughout his 2nd term as Florida governor. This while many other governors’ ratings gradually fizzle out in their 2nd term.

Bush obviously was able to escape the 2nd term gubernatorial fizzle, and it is at their own peril if Democrats allow themselves to forget this. Another lesson to the “voters will see just another Bush” crowd is that Jeb’s approval and favorability ratings often- and notably- escaped the downturns of his brother’s.

Jeb won his 2nd term as Florida governor 56% to 43%, simultaneously managing to expand his voting margins by 3 points, being the only Republican governor to win 2 terms in Florida’s history, and beating back a very formidable nationwide effort by the Democrats (including The Great Bill Clinton) to stop him.

For those who doubt that narrow margins make a difference, consider that the majority of our Presidents from 1900 to 1999 won by narrow margins- some narrower than Jeb’s 3 points- and President Obama was re-elected by even smaller margins than in 2008, notably among the under 30 crowd- the vote that delivered Obama to victory both times.

And unfortunately, a lot of those Obama primary voters in 2008, who I think probably voted for him based out of a cynicism of politics as usual, might not vote for Hillary based off of the very same cynicism they based their vote for Obama in 2008. He was perceived as an outsider who genuinely was going to fight for them, and this appealed to the voter who was previously disengaged from politics out of a learned helplessness. And Hillary, I believe, is seen as yet another personification of an an establishment insider.

And to those who count on the fear of dynasties stopping Bush: we elected two Roosevelts, two Kennedys were in one White House without much of a fuss- and for 64 years the Kennedy name has been on the door of elective office up until 2011, including the indomitable late Ted Kennedy. We’ve already had two Bushes in the White House- both of them alienating the voters who elected them. And now we’re considering a third President Bush- despite the previous two alienating their own base- and a second President Clinton, and we’re considering a Kennedy for another elective office. We’re clearly not all that ruffled when it comes to political dynasties.

If Democrats don’t listen to their own base, nor to the shifts among Republicans, they will continue to win by fiat, and even this default position will continue to disappear in between presidential elections- and probably between at least a few more midterms. Democrats should not point to the inevitability of the Tea Party’s demise as justification of their centrism- that was always a matter of natural demographic shifts in this country and cyclical historical dynamics.

If Democrats don’t internalize this and continue to encourage their presidential nominees to run and govern as centrists, they will continue to trail far behind the national electorate. This electoral strategy will no longer provide the ideological contrast needed to deliver Democrats a clear, unmistakable mandate. This is simply because, to the voters of today, there is not enough difference between a centrist Democrat and a centrist Republican- or at least Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. And considering that Bush is publicly embracing many more electorally-contentious progressive platforms than Clinton is, centrist Democrats have a lot more to worry about.

Democrats cannot and should not hedge on the idea that the GOP will run poor candidates who alienate their all-important moderate base. They have done this too often, and electoral history has been surprisingly kind to them for this. The ideological contrasts in the electorate are polarizing at a faster rate now than previously while the entire match itself is shifting to the left- a Left which does not necessarily find its home in the Democratic Party. Without the Democratic Party throwing more solid support behind candidates such as Elizabeth Warren or at least use her to accentuate the contrast between their own ticket and the Republicans’, 2016 will be Jeb Bush’s to lose.

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