It’s Not All on Hillary Clinton to Unite the Country

For Jonathan Bernstein, the most undercovered part of this campaign by the media is the depth and breadth of Trump’s lack of support within his own party. It’s easy to dismiss this, but, as Bertstein details quite well, there’s a stunning level of dissent about Trump on the right.

For Chuck Todd, the most undercovered part of the campaign by the media is the depth and breadth of dissent from both the left and the right to the status quo, and the degree to which this campaign has been a giant middle finger to our elites.

What nearly every pundit agrees about is that this campaign has been uniquely unpleasant and that the country is divided in ways that make it ungovernable. Partisans on the left are still seething about how Barack Obama, who had run a campaign on there being no true red/blue divide, was received by the Republicans in Washington DC when he took office. Although President Obama is generally popular on the left, he’s seen as naive for ever believing that he could work with the right. The last thing they want to see is Hillary Clinton wasting a bunch of time and opportunity in a doomed effort to “bring the country together.” But, of course, that’s exactly what Chuck Todd (and countless other Beltway insiders) wants and expect to see).

The level of antipathy that many Trump supporters have for her is beyond anything we’ve previously seen. She simply can’t afford to not try to at least de-escalate the anger.

She should embark on a set of town halls in Republican states with actual Trump voters starting in December and begin a conversation. She may make little actual progress, but democracy demands a real effort. If she simply adopts the 90s model of “hammer them harder than they are hammering us” — we’re doomed.

I always defended Obama in the early days by pointing out that he had to try to be the adult in the room even if it was a hopeless exercise. He ran on uniting us, and he needed to make the effort. In the end, enough people understood who was obstructing and who was being unreasonable that he was able to win reelection even in a pretty unfavorable environment. While it’s true that Clinton has won on a “Stronger Together” platform, she hasn’t promised to work miracles in deescalating the partisan divide. I don’t think too many voters expect her to accomplish this. Her promise is more to continue to defend an inclusive, heterogeneous and tolerant America that reflects its growing diversity and changing mores. And that’s exactly what Trump was running against. If she were to embark on some pre-inauguration townhall tour of red areas of the country, her message would have to be less of an olive branch than a recognition that inclusiveness includes everyone, even if they think they’re getting left behind by her rainbow coalition. But this doesn’t mean that she should make empty gestures of faux bipartisanship. She’s still going to be facing that giant middle finger no matter what she does.

With Bernstein, there’s an implication that since the Republican dissenters haven’t gotten enough attention or credit, the GOP as a whole has gotten a rather raw deal. Maybe they’re not quite as rotten to the core as it seems, and maybe their deplorables don’t make them irredeemable. I’m tempted to argue the opposite. I feel like a lot of what Trump did will stick precisely because it wasn’t repudiated strongly enough. The party divisions are real and unprecedented, but still weren’t anywhere near where they needed to be. And, in any case, the GOP is still stuck with these supporters. The elite upper crust that coughed up Trump like a fur ball doesn’t amount to more than a tiny percentage of their political movement.

To his credit, Chuck Todd recognizes that the media screwed up their prognostications in this election because they’re too insulated in New York and DC and don’t have their finger on the pulse of the country. He senses that even the Democratic Party now represents too few of the people on the economic margins, and he predicts that the financially pressed minority groups within the Democratic base will not stick around without a more concerted effort to address their needs. After all, at some point the GOP will stop campaigning against blacks and Latinos and Muslims and Jews and start dealing with the political realities that actually exist in this country.

My response to this is twofold. First, as I’ve said many times, the two-party system gives us two busses to ride. What those busses claim to care about can change and even reverse. The Democratic segregationist South can become the base of the Nixon/Reagan GOP. The rock-ribbed Vermont and Connecticut Republican can learn to Feel the Bern. Our party system is elastic, so the suburbs can go for George W. Bush and then go for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. A white Democratic governor from Arkansas can carry Kentucky and West Virginia twice and then those states can give 30% of their vote to a black Democratic candidate from Chicago. Most of the people in the Democratic Party right now are less committed to the ‘D’ label than what the party stands for right now. If, in the future, the Republican bus seems like it’s got a better chance of addressing their issues, that’s not some crisis. It’s more likely a sign of significant societal progress.

Secondly, it may be true that both parties are out of touch with the economic hardship felt by many of their supporters, but suppose that Clinton has absorbed this lesson? What’s going to be the primary obstacle to her delivering the change people want to see? It’s true that due to objections from “conservative” Democrats like Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Joe Lieberman, President Obama delivered a needlessly flawed health care reform. But he got it passed and that was the main hurdle. It was the conservative Supreme Court that gutted the Medicaid portion of the bill. It was the Republicans who voted to repeal it eleventy-billion times. And it’s the Republicans who will prevent it from being from being improved next year.

At some point, we have to face up to the fact that the Republican Party is broken and is responsible for breaking this country. Hillary Clinton is doing her part by defeating them, but she shouldn’t enter office with the responsibility all on her shoulders for getting her rabid political opponents to behave in a rational country-first bipartisan manner.

She is showing them why they must change and that has to be enough. There will be a zillion articles putting it on her to reach out and make gestures. She has to do some of that just to give the other side an opening. But when her open hand is slapped away with extreme prejudice, it will be clear why most of those zillion articles should have been addressed to the Republican leadership, their rank-and-file, and, yes, Trump’s supporters.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.