Preparing To Face Trump, Whither Hillary?Posted: May 8, 2016
Hillary Clinton’s selection as the Democratic candidate for President is approaching certainty, as is the selection of Donald Trump to become the Republican candidate. How she chooses to position herself on the ideological spectrum during the campaign will strongly influence America’s political climate during her probable presidency.
At the convention, Ms. Clinton will become the de facto leader of the Democratic Party. She and her allies will take the lead in shaping the party platform and policy priorities. The party platform will also be shaped by negotiations between the “Hillary” and “Bernie” factions of the party. But the several factors will give the “Hillary” faction an advantage: a significant majority of the delegates (at present 1709 to 1447 pledged delegates and 515 to 41 superdelegates with the possibility of that lead increasing); the support of the Democratic Party apparatus for Clinton; and, the effect on the electorate of the Trump candidacy.
The “Trump effect” frames the choice between the expected “tacking toward the center” that characterized Bill Clinton’s campaign – and is presumed to be Hillary Clinton’s preference – and the “push to the left” attributed to the influence of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. How Clinton navigates her alternatives will determine how she will be perceived by the voters in general – particularly independents – and by the “Bernie” supporters within the party.
Trump’s candidacy can encourage Clinton to take the position that appears to be more comfortable for her – in the moderate center of the political spectrum, moving incrementally toward the achievement of “progressive” change, careful not to offend powerful political and corporate interests, and encouraging the loyalty of unions and “minorities” without significantly threatening the power structure.
This option is available to her because of Trump’s extremism, which will allow her to campaign from the middle, arguing that she represents the “real America,” and making her a more comfortable choice for moderate and independent voters. She would also be able to quiet potential “leftist” dissent among Democrats by pointing to the grim alternative – Trump.
On the other hand, if she sincerely adopts some of Sen. Sanders’ policy priorities, she can position herself to the left of center, still able to define herself as the alternative to Trump’s extremism and lack of knowledge and judgment. She would be able to portray herself as the not only the continuation of President Obama’s agenda, but its expansion and fulfillment, while pointing to Trump and the Republicans as the real extremists.
I believe that the remaining primary elections will play a large part in determining the position that Ms. Clinton will take. If Sen. Sanders is able to obtain a significant share of the pledged delegates, and if his supporters exercise enough restraint to keep from alienating the rest of the Democrats, she will be forced to negotiate in earnest and make concessions that will move the party platform leftward.
However, if she achieves commanding victories, holds the loyalty of the superdelegates, and –especially – if the Sanders’ supporters position themselves as sore losers, she will be free to continue to campaign and govern in the mode of her husband (and to a large degree President Obama) and – in the words of the song by Cream – “support the left while leaning to the right.”*
*Cream, “Politician,” Wheels of Fire (1968)