Hillary Clinton’s Balancing Act

Bill Scher

In The New Republic today I explore how Hillary Clinton could campaign when there are two disparate camps of voters she will be compelled to pursue: Bernie Sanders voters on her left, and anti-Donald Trump Republicans on her right.

Sanders voters are anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership and anti-interventionist. But the Republicans fleeing Trump are pro-free trade and hawkish.

It’s possible Clinton can lean right, and still win over the Bernie vote because she’s preferable to Trump. It’s possible Clinton can double down on progressive populism, and still pick off Republicans because she’s preferable to Trump.

So this is not necessarily a question of how she has to do to win, but how she wants to govern:

Does she want to pursue a 55 percent-plus coalition? An enormous landslide is sorely tempting and could produce a big governing mandate. But if she reaches too far right she could lose the skeptical left … If she campaigns on a vague all-things-to-all-people message, she risks being skewered by Trump as a typical politician. And if she wins anyway, the big vote total won’t translate to a specific mandate.

But for a proud pragmatist like Clinton, a muddled mandate may be a feature, not a bug. To win by replicating Obama’s sturdier, if narrower, low-50s coalition would require more tending to the populist left. Broadening her coalition means freeing herself from the left and expanding her governing latitude. We need not assume that’s what she wants; but her choices going forward will be telling.

What does mean for Sanders supporters? Already, they have been able to push Clinton leftward on the TPP, Keystone and minimum wage. But going forward, applying pressure with the sheer force of numbers may be not enough if she is able to break off a chunk of the Republican Party and broaden the Democratic big tent.

Populist progressives will strengthen their standing the more they are seen as representing the public will, as opposed to a party faction. In other words, they may be competing with the #NeverTrump forces for the claim of which group best represents America’s political center.

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