The 2008 Democratic Presidential primary was one for the ages. On the left side of the stage you had a young, charming and liberal African-American candidate in Barack Obama. On the other side you had the more pragmatic Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, it was the newcomer that prevailed due to better organizing and messaging.
Even though Democrats did not realize it at the time they needed Clinton in 2008 and they need her even more in 2016. Just as the GOP has been drifting rightward the Democratic Party has been drifting leftward. The netroots might love the drift but the political middle certainly does not. Clinton realizes this today.
Clinton would have been no conservative or centrist (or is now) but she would have been pragmatic. After living through 1994 she would have realized that most Americans do not support change all at once (despite what they say). Instead of enacting Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and pushing Cap and Trade she would have pushed for incremental change that might have garnered GOP support.
On Healthcare, Clinton likely would have pushed for Medicaid Expansion, ending denials to preexisting conditions and capping out-of-pocket costs. On Wal-Street regulation Clinton could have pushed for more modest restrictions on banks, easing restrictions on loans and ending To Big To Fail. Considering where Clinton’s blue-collar support emanates it is unlikely she would have pushed for Cap and Trade but rather modest changes to power plant emissions.
This surely would have disappointed the left-wing of the Democratic Party but could have led to the possibility of further marginalizing the GOP if it said no. Instead, by pushing so much so quickly President Obama alienated the middle and enraged the right. The 2010 election results and continuous partisan gridlock are the result.
Obama’s failures on foreign policy would also not have occurred. Clinton is no George Bush in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan but she is no Obama either. She does not waver in the use of US power abroad and is not afraid to share that sentiment. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Clinton noted the failure of Obama’s foreign policy agenda. On Syria, she would have armed the rebels. On Iraq, she would have left a residual force in place. Overall, Clinton forcefully noted, “Great nations need great organizing principles and don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.”
For whatever reason Democrats are loath to admit they need such a pragmatist in the White House in 2017. Despite his reelection in 2012 (largely by painting Romney as unacceptable) the President has become as toxic to his party as rat poison (even in states he won twice). The President’s popularity has fallen largely because the public does not trust his leadership skills and abilities. Gridlock has allowed numerous problems to fester and lead to all sides blaming the other for the nation’s ills.
The grassroots of the Democratic Party has never truly embraced Hillary. In 2000, when she was first elected to the Senate in New York State, she faced a flawed GOP opponent. In 2007-08, Clinton won over the establishment but lost the young and progressives.
Despite this she has been anointed by all wings of the party as their likely nominee for 2016 should she accept it. Maybe this is the progressive wing throwing the party establishment a bone and admitting that Obama has been an electoral nightmare for the party. More likely however, it is the grassroots acknowledging they lack a progressive heir to Obama.
The grassroots favorite politicians, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are not running for President and they are far from ready to face a national electorate. What’s left for the progressives national bench is a shallow pool of barely knowns; Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and a host of big city Mayors. None has the potential to challenge or even parallel a Clinton candidacy.
Ultimately, a Hillary candidacy would paper over the Democratic Party’s problems. Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were predicating on maximizing turnout in big cities. But the suburbs outside of many big cities swung uniformly to the right. Going forward there is no guarantee these same voters that turned out for Obama would turn out for another progressive. Obama’s gift for campaigning may be as much related to his persona as his ideology (2016 will test this theory).
The party also would be able to rally around a universally accepted (if not loved) candidate. This would allow Democrats to avoid the bloodbath the GOP endured in 2012 and could yet again endure in 2016. Assuming Hillary is nominated in 2017, wins and runs for reelection the party would not need to contemplate having a soul-searching moment until 2023. Of course, if the GOP is any example, the activist far wings of the parties do not wait decades to aggravate for change.
Clinton would be a boon for the party. She could bring a sense of normalcy back to the nation. She would return to incremental change, perhaps incentivizing some in the GOP to jump on board for electoral survival. She would allow the party to unify and avoid having a nasty internal fight over its future. Maybe she could even fix some of Obama’s mistakes (good luck).
Ironically, Hillary Clinton, part of the party’s past, could become its best hope for the future.