Good thing I squeezed in that post last week about how none of these gaffes really matter because, er, today it feels like they’re starting to matter. You could excuse the “dead broke” soundbite on grounds that everyone makes mistakes; I don’t know how you excuse her doubling down by claiming that she’s not “truly well off.” Maybe Dan Drezner’s right that this is a near-terminal case of Status-Income Disequilibrium, in which Hillary simply can’t grasp how people as influential as her and Bill nonetheless earn far less than many of the people they hang around with these days. Or maybe she’s so confident in Bill’s blue-collar appeal that she thinks she can afford to be not terribly guarded in talking about her wealth. These are weird errors to be making, though, knowing that Elizabeth Warren, Thomas Piketty, and income inequality are the rage on the left. It’d be like Romney talking up the virtues of ObamaCare on the trail circa 2010. Even a bad campaigner should have some primitive sense of how to stay in his/her base’s good graces. Could Hillary actually be … a worse retail politician than Mitt?
I still don’t think she’s going to get a serious primary challenger — Martin “Who?” O’Malley isn’t going to beat the Clinton machine by out-pandering them on amnesty — but I’m less confident now than I was four days ago. At a minimum, she’s going to ramp the blather on income inequality way, way up to try to atone for this. Brian Beutler thinks Hillary’s been planning all along to run on soaking the rich. If she wasn’t before, she will be now:
“[T]hey don’t see me as part of the problem,” she said, “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”…
Nearly all viable presidential candidates are extremely rich. Obama is himself quite rich, though not exactly Kennedy/Bush/Kerry/Romney rich. The next GOP nominee might not be quite as cartoonish a plutocrat as Romney, but he will almost certainly be wealthy, and, crucially, will almost certainly promote an agenda that would exacerbate economic inequality. When Clinton said “we pay ordinary income tax” she wasn’t just taking a gratuitous jab backwards at Romney for paying taxes at a sub-15 percent rate. She was presaging an agenda that will almost certainly call for eliminating or reducing tax preferences that allow an entire class of people of great wealth to reduce their effective tax rates. I don’t know if she’ll propose jacking up the capital gains tax, or closing the carried-interest loophole. I don’t know if she’ll target individual tax loopholes, or advocate for capping tax expenditure benefits or anything about what her economic agenda will look like. But I am 100 percent confident it will include some measures along these lines, and nearly as confident that the Republican candidate will oppose it in every particular.
The question is whether her recent screw-ups will encourage her to embrace populism more firmly than she wanted to, to appease the left. Her billionaire friends will let her get away with it on the stump: If the only alternative is Warren, they might as well back Hillary to the hilt and then trust her to forget about her promises once in office. But that doesn’t solve her immediate problem, which is that the more she talks like this, the more it’s going to entice some would-be blue-collar champion into the race — Warren, crank-ish but fun Brian Schweitzer, maybe even … Joe Biden. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, this is good news for everyone but Jeb Bush, I think. If Hillary bumbles her way into the general election reeking of ruling-class privilege, Republicans would want to counter with someone who’s not obviously a member of that same class. That points to someone young, from outside Washington, who’s not terribly wealthy, and, uh, doesn’t share a gene pool with two former presidents, namely, Walker, Jindal, or Christie. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will also run along those lines, as outsiders who’ve infiltrated the Beltway. Barring a Jeb coronation, the Republican nominee will almost certainly be less “ruling class” than the Democratic one in 2016, a good thing to be at a moment when Americans despise Washington like virtually never before. The mystery is whether Beutler’s right that eliminating tax advantages to investment is the sort of populist flourish that can neutralize that disadvantage for Democrats.