The RNC Has a Plan: Go After Clinton’s VP Pick

As we watch the fissures within the Republican Party deepen with the candidacy of Donald Trump, Sam Stein reports that the RNC has a plan for the presidential race. It basically comes down to that old schoolyard taunt of saying, “yeah I’m one, but so are you!” In other words, they’ll pretend that the Democratic Party is as ruptured as they are. How quaint is it that they’ve named this effort “Project Pander?”

In a detailed memo outlining its strategy to combat Clinton’s VP choice, the committee says it will frame the selection as both a cynical play to certain constituencies and as an emotional letdown for voters who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary.

The goals, the memo says, are to “drive wedges between these top contenders and either Clinton and/or traditional Democrat constituencies, such as labor, environmentalists, and gun control advocates, and other traditional left-wing constituencies;” and “[w]here applicable, frame the choice as an insult to the large, deep base of Bernie Sanders supporters who are struggling with the notion of supporting Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democrat nominee.”

Here’s how it plays out: no matter who Hillary Clinton picks as her running mate, the RNC plans to cast them as an “emotional letdown” to voters who supported Sanders. Apparently they’ve already done their opposition research on the top six contenders. For example:

Sen. Tim Kaine

With respect to Kaine, the committee’s plan of attack will be to paint him as a “career politician” whose positions on trade and abortion makes him unpalatable for supporters of Sanders.

Sec. Julian Castro

For Castro, the committee will argue that he is woefully inexperienced and that the limited record he has is a disappointment to liberals: from supporting NAFTA to pushing, while mayor of San Antonio, to get a Connecticut-based gun manufacturer to move its headquarters to the city.

“Castro could easily be portrayed as a John Edwards-esque pick,” the memo reads, “whereby someone with good looks but a thin resume is viewed as a novice on the national stage.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

A Warren choice, the RNC concedes, would go over well with Sanders supporters. But it would be “an extreme lurch left” that the committee would paint as “intensely liberal and uncompromising.” Interestingly, the RNC hints that it would use the selection of Warren as a means of diminishing Clinton, both by playing up Warren as, in some ways, the more powerful of the two and by portraying Clinton as captive to her base.

“A Clinton-Warren ticket reeks of insincerity,” the memo reads.

The memo itself also includes the kind of message they’d use against three other prospective picks.

Rep. Xavier Becerra

Becerra is an untrustworthy hypocrite. Becerra has residency issues and enriched himself despite purportedly serving as a public servant in a district with the country’s fourth-largest concentration of the working poor. Becerra relishes dividing people along racial lines, supports policies favorable to illegal immigrants, and has been linked to radical Hispanic organizations. Becerra is a shameless opportunist and career politician, who betrayed key constituencies during his failed run for Mayor.

Labor Sec. Tom Perez

Perez is a career federal bureaucrat who has used whatever office he is in as a bully pulpit to expand government. His selection should terrify independents, swing voters, and businesses everywhere as it makes the ticket ultra-liberal. In addition, Perez has trouble with the truth and questioning his honesty will be a top priority.

Sen. Sherrod Brown

The best narrative to push about Brown is simply that he is an ultra-liberal who is to the left of Clinton and out of touch with the country.

Do you see what they did there? Kaine and Castro would disappoint Sanders supporters because they’re not liberal enough. But they can’t use that one against Warren, Becerra, Perez and Brown. So they’ll flip and suggest they’re too liberal. They’ve got it covered either way.

In the end, what this comes down to is that Republicans continue to limit their options to playing on one particular demographic group of voters.

The RNC’s gambit is that Donald Trump’s unique appeal to working-class white [male] voters — including many who backed Sanders’ candidacy — also represents a potential pitfall for Clinton as she rounds out her ticket.

Here is what they’re hinging it all on:

A recent Bloomberg survey showed just 55 percent of Sanders supporters planned to vote for Clinton in a Clinton/Trump/Johnson/Stein race, with Trump garnering 22 percent support. Maintaining or expanding the base on non-Clinton backing Sanders supporters will be an important message for framing Clinton’s choice.

That Bloomberg poll might have been a bit premature. Here’s what the most recent NBC/WSJ poll found:

…in the poll’s horserace result showing Clinton leading Donald Trump by five points, 78% of Sanders supporters are picking Clinton, while 10% back Trump and the rest are neither/other/unsure. But in a four-way ballot — where Clinton’s lead is reduced to one point — 63% of Sanders supporters are behind Clinton, 14% pick the Green Party’s Jill Stein, 9% back Trump, and 8% are for Libertarian Johnson.

In other words, the gap is closing. Clinton will likely announce her choice just before the Democratic Convention. The RNC won’t have much time to launch Project Pander between those two events and so let’s check back in afterwards and see what the polls look like.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.