What was the popular definition of insanity again? Oh yeah. Democrats who lined up behind Hillary Clinton twice only to watch her fail spectacularly have a conundrum on their hands. Should they allow the woman who lost to Donald Trump go on the stump in their bid to win back the House?
Maybe the third time’s the charm, eh?
“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, said in an interview.
“If she’s willing to go into those districts she won, she would be extraordinarily helpful,” he said.
“Trump’s numbers have only fallen in those districts, so you start there. It would be such a loss if she sat it out and a double loss if she didn’t go into those districts.”
Republicans would looooove to endorse this idea, except that to endorse it publicly might jinx the whole operation. They may just wonder whether their opponents could possibly be as tone deaf as to try it. Hillary’s favorable ratings have continued to fall even after the election; at the moment, they’re below Trump’s favorable rating. That makes Hillary one of the least liked politicians on the national stage.
The plan — to the extent that Democrats have one — would be to use Hillary only in districts where she won last year. But what good would that do? Democrats held onto their base seats, which they should be able to win without Hillary’s help in 2016. Putting her on the campaign trail in 2018 will make her a national lightning rod for Republicans, one they may be using anyway, as one analyst told The Hill:
“They will continue to talk about Hillary Clinton because it’s better than talking about the deeply unpopular president,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “She offers a political villain of sorts to help generate the kind of turnout that might otherwise be lacking.”
Indeed — and if Democrats continue to use her as a standard-bearer, that only makes it easier for Republicans to make that argument stick.
Maybe Democrats believe that her numbers will bounce back in 2018 as Trump’s unpopularity grows. As Philip Bump pointed out almost three years ago, that’s a bad bet — one that has already burned Democrats twice:
In almost every election cycle since the first 1992 campaign, Hillary’s favorables sink under water rather than rise. Why? In large part, because she’s a terrible candidate with an entitlement mentality, a trait that grates especially in a populist environment. She only recovers when she’s off the campaign trail, although her constant blameshifting in 2017 is preventing that from happening now. Add in the sudden need to reconsider Bill Clinton’s behavior and Hillary’s attacks on his victims in the #MeToo era, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Republicans have to hope that Democrats ignore all this data in 2018, just as they did in 2008 and 2016, plus their own experience with Hillary over the last two years. Please make the midterms yet another referendum on Hillary, her supposed victimization, and her self-assigned spokesperson for All Women, they will say. Triple down on the Clintons. What could go wrong?