Keep hope alive, says Jonathan Last. Not only has she been gaffe-ing up America’s airwaves — the “dead broke” remark, that gay-marriage meltdown interview with NPR, and some offhanded inanity about how smart the Russian reset was — but it’s all been happening against a backdrop of fiasco for American foreign policy.
How’d you like to be a former Secretary of State running on this record?
Obama — perhaps you’ve heard this? — got bin Laden. But other than that, his foreign policy record is disastrous: Libya, Egypt, Syria, the South China Sea, Crimea, Iraq, Afghanistan. It is difficult to find a spot on the globe that is better off today than when Obama took office. And yet Obama’s foreign policy is the only entry of substance on Hillary Clinton’s resume right now. Which means it will carry double the weight.
For Obama, Putin and Crimea are a mid-size political problem, ranked somewhere above the Keystone pipeline. For Clinton it’s an existential problem because foreign affairs are the only measures for her basic professional competence.
Think about it from the perspective of a Democratic voter: Hillary Clinton was wrong on Monica Lewinsky during the (Bill) Clinton years, wrong on gay marriage and Iraq during the Bush years, and now wrong on Putin and Syria and Egypt and the whole of American foreign policy during the Obama years. What has she ever been right on? And if you’re a Democratic voter, at some point you start to wonder, Can’t we do better?
Do you? Go watch this clip before you answer. My trust in the commentariat’s ability to gauge which gaffes are truly damaging among average voters and which aren’t is down to zero at this point, and yeah, I certainly include myself in “the commentariat.” The ultimate example of this, I think, is Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line during the 2012 campaign. Conservative media blew up over it, me included, to the point where it became a key theme at the GOP convention. Voters didn’t care, though, because most voters aren’t “builders.” They’re wage-earners. You could crap on entrepreneurs all day and they wouldn’t flinch, although it’d probably convince the Chamber of Commerce to pause from its amnesty campaigning for five minutes to write a check to your opponent.
My hunch is that nothing Hillary’s said this week has reduced her chances. It takes a big gaffe to register with average voters, and that gaffe has to reveal some perceived “deeper truth” about the candidate to have legs, I suspect. That’s why Romney’s “47 percent” comment outgrew the punditocracy and actually penetrated the electorate. It seemed to confirm the sense of him as a country-club Republican who looked down on the lower class. There’s potential, I guess, for Hillary’s “dead broke” comment and her stupid whining about how “brutal” American politics is to make her seem “out of touch,” but never forget that she’s got Bill around to give her a shot of blue-collar appeal when needed. If her last name weren’t “Clinton,” you might have something in drawing her as the consummate limousine liberal. As it is, I think it’s a glancing blow, nothing more, especially if the GOP ends up supporting the “out of touch” attack by, er, nominating a guy named Bush. As for the gay-marriage interview, it’s hard for me to believe liberals are going to give her too hard a time over any heresy knowing how difficult it is for a party to win the White House for three consecutive terms. Iraq is the perfect example. Her vote to invade helped Obama pull the upset in 2008, but no one thinks it’ll keep her from the nomination now. She’s clearly the strongest candidate Democrats have in an extremely difficult political climate. They’ll be prudent in deciding how severely to punish her for deviations from orthodoxy.
As for foreign policy, everything Last said is true — it looks like O’s going to toss her the keys to an agenda that’s been completely totaled. But … since when do voters elect presidents based on foreign policy? The only clear example I can think of recently is 2004 and it took 9/11 to make that happen. Even in 2008, when Obama ran as the anti-Bush and the GOP nominated the hawk di tutti hawks, McCain was competitive until the bottom dropped out on Wall Street. Unless Rand Paul shocks everyone in the primaries, the next Republican nominee is likely to run to Hillary’s right on foreign policy, which will set her up nicely to run a “no more Iraqs” campaign. (Repudiating her own vote for war will also rally the left.) That strategy might not work as well as it did in 2008, but barring any major terror attacks on the U.S., it’ll work well enough to neutralize most of the GOP’s foreign-policy criticism, especially if the economy picks up a bit in 2015-16 and gives her something else to talk about. You have two big problems running against her and neither has anything to do with the finer points of foreign policy. One: How do you neutralize Bill’s popularity? She’s going to run on his economic record, not O’s, and he’s going to help her — a lot, I’ll bet — with blue-collar voters. She may be a bad retail politician but he’s an exceptional one, and he’ll be campaigning as much as she will. What do you do about it? (Start by nominating a conspicuously blue-collar yourself, I’d guess.) Two: How do you neutralize the “it’s time for a woman” argument? That argument doesn’t depend on who’s gaffed worst or who was really responsible for security at the Benghazi consulate. My hunch is that the GOP will start this campaign with a single-digit lead among men and Hillary will start with a double-digit lead among women. Either we build heavily on the former or reduce the latter or we lose. Is the “dead broke” thing or Ukraine going to help do that?
Update: Tough but fair.