Why Hillary’s Campaign Is Not a Wayback Machine

I’m coming a bit late to the party where sledgehammers were passed out to bash the Martin/Haberman weekend piece in the New York Times that gave red-state Democrats a platforn for expressing regret that Hillary Clinton has abandoned her husband’s expansive general election strategy for Barack Obama’s narrow base-oriented approach. But I’ll take a whack at it anyway.

Unlike some bashers, I didn’t spend the Clinton years arguing that a “middle-out” strategy of the sort Joe Manchin wants HRC to pursue was a treasonous alternative to the “base-in” strategy that Obama more or less adopted in 2012. What Bill Clinton did made perfect sense for 1992 and 1996. It might have even worked for Al Gore in 2000 had he chosen one approach instead of alternating back-and-forth between defending the Clinton-Gore record and championing “the people versus the powerful.”

That was then and this is now, and as Nancy LeTourneau pointed out yesterday, the idea that the “Clinton strategy” puts more electoral votes in play than the “Obama strategy” is dubious to begin with. What do you think is a safer electoral vote strategy: one that concedes Kentucky and West Virginia, or one in which California has to be defended?

As for downballot support, I hate to be cynical about it, but by election day 2016 the only thing surer than red-state Democratic demands for more national money will be red-state demands that HRC keep the hell away from the campaigns of red-state Democrats.

Candidates hunt where the ducks are. The planted axiom of the Times piece is that somehow “America” should be identified with swing voters, no matter how scarce or numerous they are. That’s based in part on the entirely erroneous impression that a candidate who “reaches out” to voters beyond her or his “base” is going to face a more reasonable opposition. The experience of Barack Obama in the first two years of his first term is proof positive against that proposition, for the time being. The only thing that is going to produce a more reasonable opposition is another couple of general election beatings.

Truth is we wouldn’t be having this argument if HRC had a different last name. We’re supposed to believe there is some sort of “Clinton strategy” to which she should be loyal whether it makes any sense or not, 20 years after the last time Bill Clinton appeared on any ballot. I’m tempted to say it would be nice if the Big Dog himself took to the Times op-ed pages and knocked this down for good. But that would just perpetuate the notion HRC’s campaign belongs to her husband, and is best run as a wayback machine.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.