We’ve arrived at the end of the first week of Hillary 2.0, and it’s difficult to know what we’re seeing as of yet. What is the campaign theme, anyway? It’s a toss-up between prairie populism, Carmen Sandiego, and Junk Food Junkie. Mark Halperin tells John Heileman on Bloomberg View that he sees a certain patten developing, one that shows that Hillary Clinton is “terrified of the Left.” While she tries pandering to progressives in order to keep from suffering another embarrassing loss in Iowa, “she’s forgetting the fact that there’s a general election to come if she’s the nominee,” Halperin says. “I don’t think it’s going well”:
Even to the extent that she’s playing to the Left, Hillary gets reminded that she’s pandering. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who may or may not jump into the race against Hillary as a challenge from the progressive wing, poked at her for following the polls rather than principles on the issues of same-sex marriage and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants:
“I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls. And every election is about the future. And leadership is about making the right decision, and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular.”
A reporter followed up by asking whether O’Malley believes Clinton just follows polls. “I’m glad Secretary Clinton has come around to the right positions on both these issues,” he said.
“I believe marriage is a human right, not a state right. I’m glad she’s come around to that position as well. I believe that we do our country a disservice when we make it harder for new American immigrants to abide by the rules of the road and obtain drivers licenses. And I’m glad she’s come around to that position now too.”
On the other hand, why should Hillary worry? The Democratic bench is practically non-existent. Other than O’Malley himself, who has gained little traction over the last couple of months, there are almost no substantial challengers even in a theoretical sense waiting in the wings. Deval Patrick just signed up for Wall Street, ending any White House hopes he might have had, and everyone else is either as old or older than Hillary herself. That’s not a coincidence, Byron York argues, but the outcome of a deliberate strategy by the Clintons to clear the field:
“It’s the snuffing out of young talent by the strength and size and sheer velocity of the inevitable nominee,” says a well-connected Democratic strategist. “The Clintons took all the air out of the collective Democratic room. There are a lot of people who would be running who are much younger, but they’ve got their future in front of them, and they don’t want the Clintons to ruin it, in this campaign or after this campaign. So they’re waiting for a moment when there is enough oxygen to run.”
“If Hillary Clinton weren’t running, we’d have a field that looks like the Republican field — young and vibrant and diverse.”
If there were no Clinton campaign, would Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who will be 50 on Inauguration Day, be exploring a run? Would Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who will be 56, be thinking about it? Would New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will be 59, be preparing to run? They’d all be considering it.
If any of them ran today, however, they could find themselves unable to gain any traction at all in a Clinton-dominated primary race. That could make it more difficult for them to mount a credible run in the future.
In addition, any Democrat running against Hillary Clinton today would face the question of whether to aggressively attack the frontrunner, which, after a losing campaign, could result in dreaded recriminations from the powerful Clinton camp. If, on the other hand, those politicians sit this one out, they might have a chance for a real shot someday.
So why would Hillary be “terrified of the Left,” as Halperin concludes? Well, the Clintons have suppressed the political leaders of the Left, but still need the progressive base to turn out. She’s worried about the Mitt Romney effect in reverse, so to speak. The problem, which Halperin correctly diagnoses, is that in her rush to preclude a challenger from the Left emerging by triangulating towards progressives that she’s risking the loss of centrists who may be open to a Republican-populist argument from a more charismatic nominee. Hillary should worry less about the Left and more about getting stuck with them.