So the thinking person’s empirically oriented conservative political analyst, Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, has an interesting piece suggesting that the apparent decision of Hillary Clinton to run a progressive-leaning campaign is a sign not of any real confidence it’s the winning formula, but of the absence of any alternative.
Sean’s playing off a TNR column by Brian Beutler suggesting that HRC has reason to believe she can keep the “Obama coalition” together and that it will continue to be enough for victory in a presidential election. Trende points to some reasons he thinks that calculation may be wrong, but argues HRC’s probably making the best of a bad hand because the “Clinton coalition,” which included many blue-collar white voters, is gone forever.
I don’t want to put any words in Brian’s mouth, but I’d say Sean’s missing another possibility. Sure, the days are gone for good where any Democrat, even Bill Clinton’s wife, is going to try to appeal to white-working class voters on cultural grounds, as the 42d president famously did in 1992 and 1996. But appealing to some of them on a “populist” economic message, as HRC is showing every sign of doing, couldn’t do worse and might do better than the conventional Democratic pitch. I don’t share the belief of many progressive folk that non-college educated white voters will light up like a Christmas tree the minute a candidate attacks corporations or Wall Street, but again, (a) it couldn’t hurt, and (b) it hasn’t been systematically tried in a long time, and to the extent Obama tried it in 2012, it seemed to work. Since economic progressivism is also the approach most consistent with hanging onto the Obama Coalition as well, why not deploy it?
Looked at it this way, moving “left” on economic messaging makes sense whether or not Brian’s right that the Obama Coalition will turn out for HRC (or any other non-Obama candidate) in 2016. If he’s wrong, it’s still probably the smartest way to keep turnout up among young and minority voters, and could stanch the bleeding among white-working-class voters as well. It’s less the strategy of last resort Sean Trende suggests it might be, and more a sound if hardly risk-free bet.