Evan Halper and Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times are basically correct when they say that Hillary Clinton is aggressively courting Republican voters but not actually doing much of anything on the policy front to throw them a bone. There are so many disaffected Republicans who are willing and even eager to disavow Trump that the Clinton campaign has a scheduling problem giving each faction its due. Yesterday it was 30 ex-House members signing an open letter against Trump. Before that, it was ex-Virginia Senator John Warner coming out against him. Back in August, there were 50 Republican foreign policy veterans who signed an open letter against Trump. Mitt Romney is against Trump. The whole Bush family appears to be against him. John McCain only feigns his support. There’s even a Clinton campaign website where ordinary citizens can go declare that they are “Republicans against Trump.”
Yet, the balance of polling data indicates that most Republican voters are either staying put or flirting with Gary Johnson.
For all her marketing to Republicans, Clinton has done little to pivot her agenda in their direction. She has been unapologetic about continuing the policies of Obama, which conservatives detest. She has vowed to nominate justices who would put the Supreme Court under liberal control for decades, filling Republican voters with dread. She would grow government, expand Obamacare and champion abortion rights.
“She hasn’t done much to throw conservatives a bone,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin. A vocal member of the “Never Trump” movement, Sykes finds himself tangling with his listeners constantly. “They are lining up with their noses held to vote for him,” he said.
Sykes said he is still waiting for Clinton to reach out to Republicans with a “Sister Souljah moment” — a reference to the time Bill Clinton impressed social conservatives with a provocative remark before Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. In the 1992 incident, Clinton repudiated a hip-hop artist’s take on black-on-white violence.
Hillary Clinton is unlikely to deliver such a moment. Instead, she is taking a far more cautious approach, one that avoids offending the progressive voters who were the backbone of President Obama’s electoral coalition and who rallied around her primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
I’m skeptical that Clinton’s efforts and these high profile Republican defections aren’t having any impact. It may just be that it’s hard to isolate small impacts among all the statistical noise. Suburban women, for example, have already been identified as one group that is defecting from the GOP in significant numbers. But it’s hard to say how much that is explained by the lure of a woman president or the boorishness and sexism of her opponent. If it’s also the case that these more moderate Republicans are swayed by establishment Republican denunciations, it could be impossible to tell from the polling data.
Anecdotally, as a resident of the Philly suburbs, I live among a lot of Romney voters (of both genders) who will not be voting for Trump. These folks are less likely to get their news from right-wing sources and they’re not doctrinaire conservatives. They actually read newspapers and care what David Brooks or George Will has to say. When they see that Poppy Bush may be voting for Clinton, that actually means something to them. The question is, how many more of them are gettable but still holding out because they prefer a generic Republican to a generic Democrat? Could Clinton make inroads by signaling that she agrees with them about some of the shortcomings of her base?
Progressives don’t like it when Democrats pander to Republicans. If President Obama says something nice about Ronald Reagan, that’s hard to forgive. If Michelle poses for a picture with Dubya, that’s like waterboarding a terrorist with her own gag and bucket. Half of them are convinced that Clinton has or will triangulate them to death.
So far, though, it’s hard to identify any concessions she’s made to the right. There have been no Sister Souljah moments. Most of her natural appeal to the right hasn’t come from movement on her part but simply through Trump breaking with conservative orthodoxy. So, for example, a Republican would naturally feel more comfortable with Clinton’s position on Russia than with this:
Perhaps Clinton can find some areas to broaden her appeal to soft Republicans, but so far progressives don’t have much to complain about. Still, maybe the dumbest thing in left-wing politics is the idea that you don’t want to win by too much.