If not Hillary, then who? That question haunts Democrats in this cycle, perhaps increasingly so with all of the revelations about the Clinton Foundation that keep emerging and they keep trying to excuse. The connections to arms sales is just the latest embarrassment, and by far not the most serious. Democrats aren’t waiting for the next shoe to drop; they’re waiting for the shoestorm to slow down, as Michael Ramirez depicted it earlier this month for Investors Business Daily:
Democrats face a big problem in trying to come up with a Plan B, which is that the money has been wrapped up by the Clintons long ago. They got a fresh start after 2008, and have used the foundation and their own wealth to make personal connections to big Democratic donors. They now have a vested interest in seeing the Clintons return to the White House, and that means any challengers have to work outside the Democratic establishment, at least to start. Bernie Sanders knows this, which is why it’s easy for him to posture as a grassroots candidate who eschews Wall Street and the wealthy; they won’t give Sanders the time of day anyway.
The other model is the self-funder, and USA Today’s Michael Wolff argues that only one candidate can use it to derail Team Hillary. Get ready for Bloomiemania, Wolff says, especially in the center:
Even Hillary, unopposed, tacks toward an Internet-and-millennially-centric left that tolerates fewer and fewer deviations, and that sees the center as its enemy. And while she may hope she can come back, this too is arguably part of the Hillary deficit: a desire to be liked by the wrong people (a desire to be popular among people who don’t really like her).
The race from the center, on the part of the Republicans and now joined by the Democrats, leaves an extraordinary political opportunity, one that, likely, can only be seized by someone not weighed down by ideologically driven money or afraid of an internecine primary fight.
If, as everybody seems increasingly to understand, political parties now facilitate the opposite of consensus, then an effectively independent political power base — in a sense, the only one in the country — like Michael Bloomberg’s could be a wonderful, even astounding, corrective.
It’s the fundamental duh formula: a progressive social conscience with pro-growth economic views. In the aftermath of the left’s terrible drubbing in Britain, Tony Blair, the ultimate centrist architect, expressed the obvious synthesis necessary for political success: “ambition and aspiration as well as compassion and care.”
So the solution to a pseudo-oligarchy is an explicit oligarchy? That is, after all, what this argues. We need a self-funding billionaire to buy the office outright rather than have competing voices — a few of which are billionaires, but mostly are rank-and-file voters — work within the party system to nominate someone who matches their ideological profile. Suddenly, personal wealth is back in again!
That may be a workable alternative for Democrats, but it’s hardly reform. Its only virtue seems to be that Bloomberg would spend his own money rather than the money of others, and probably only at first. The center only benefits because of this particular oligarch’s whim, it should be pointed out; if one of the Koch brothers were to float a similar proposal, the commentariat would engage in a media freakout that might rival that of The China Syndrome and Three Mile Island. And the Kochs have as much claim to distance from the conservative Right, especially on social issues, as Bloomberg does from the progressive Left, if not more.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump showers some cold water on Wolff’s proposal:
First of all, the rise of the Super PAC has made being a billionaire candidate less of an advantage. Ted Cruz raised tens of millions of dollars into super PACs his first week on the trail, money which isn’t going to the campaign but will still be used for his benefit. In the modern era of presidential politics, you don’t need to be a billionaire, you just need to point friendly billionaires to the right place to drop off checks.
Second, the idea that there is a great thirst for centrist politics is the recurring fever dream of wealthy Democrats. Surely, they think, there must be others who embrace business but hold socially moderate positions. And there are. Their names are Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo. (Or, more broadly it seems, they are now called Republicans.)
That’s a bit of an overgeneralization because the idea of “centrism” itself is an overgeneralization. What is a “centrist?” Esquire tried to suss out the broad political middle in 2013, ending up with categories that included big clusters of partisans. A study reported by Vox last summer figured that there isn’t really much of a moderate middle at all. Vox’s Ezra Klein summarized the findings: “What happens … is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions.”
Bump also reminds readers of the wild success of the “No Labels” movement, which saw almost every candidate they endorsed in 2014 lose. Almost all of them were also Democrats, incumbent Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett (lost) and Cory Gardner (won his Senate race in Colorado) rare exceptions.
Democrats got themselves into this position by failing to organize viable alternatives to Hillary when they had the chance in 2014. The irony is that now they’re looking for a white knight to rescue them from the damsel in distress.