Democratic primary voters, who chose Hillary Clinton because they believed she was the most electable Democrat against Donald Trump, may be in for a rude awakening. They may have picked the least electable Democrat and placed the country and the world in jeopardy of a proto-fascist President Trump.
Very simply, the Clinton campaign is in big trouble, and she seems on the verge of compounding the problem by choosing a boring, corporate centrist running mate like Tim Kaine or Tom Vilsack, who will only emphasize the status quo nature of her candidacy, rather than a populist like Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown, or possibly Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who could put some energy and enthusiasm into her campaign. Picking a corporate centrist would just double down on Clinton as a status quo candidate when Trump’s challenge is as an agent of change.
I really don’t want to be writing a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” column about why Bernie Sanders would have been more electable. At this stage I’d rather be making the argument that, for all her political and character flaws, Clinton is still preferable to Donald Trump and that progressives should be doing everything possible to prevent Trump’s election, which means critically supporting her. But there’s no avoiding the painful truth that Clinton is in danger of losing.
Going into the Republican convention, and right before the past week of Hillary-bashing in Cleveland, Nate Silver wrote that Clinton’s lead “is as safe as Kerry’s was in 2004.” According to Silver’s models, Clinton leads Trump by three to four points, down from six to seven points a few weeks ago. John Kerry went into his convention with a three-point lead over Bush, but ended up losing.
Even more troubling is the deeper polling in a Washington Post article headlined “The Continuing Political Decline of Hillary Clinton.” According to the article, “it’s hard to overstate just how bad Clinton’s numbers are. And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll is the latest to suggest they just keep getting worse—so much so that they are in some ways about as bad as Trump’s.”
Fifty-seven percent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of Clinton and 47 percent have a “strongly unfavorable view”. The “Strongly unfavorable” view hit a new high. And by 72 percent-21 percent voters think that Clinton is “too willing to bend the rules.” Per The Post, “either way you slice it, Clinton’s image is as bad or worse as it has ever been.” Meanwhile Trump’s unfavorable ratings are 49 percent, a statistical tie with Clinton’s.
If there’s a glimmer of hope for Clinton in the poll numbers, it’s that a “mere” 42 percent think Clinton isn’t qualified to be president, while 58 percent think that Trump is unqualified. So if the election comes down to who appears more “presidential,” Clinton might prevail.
But when asked which candidate could bring “the needed change to Washington,” Trump leads by 11 points, 50 percent-39 percent. So if this is a change election, there’s a good chance that Trump wins.
And beyond the anecdotal, one poll number strongly points to a change election: Only 28 percent of voters think the country is going in the right direction, while 68 percent think it’s going in the wrong direction.
In a year in which there’s tremendous fear and angst across the land, Democrats picked the personification of a status quo candidate in Hillary Clinton. In that context, her 35 years in public life—as first lady of Arkansas and the U.S., senator from New York, and secretary of state—may be more of a liability than an asset. She personifies what Bernie Sanders has called ”establishment politics and establishment economics,” despite her platform concessions to the Sanders forces.
The Republican establishment was so weak and compromised that a colorful, bellicose outsider like Trump could push it aside and stage a successful hostile takeover of the Republican Party.
The Democratic establishment also face a serious outsider challenge, with Bernie Sanders getting about 44 percent of the pledged delegates against the vaunted Clinton Democratic machine. But with a Democratic president in office who’s popular with Democrats, and a series of rules that, if not “stacked,” were clearly intended to make an insurgent campaign difficult to succeed, Clinton squeaked through. The Democratic establishment got what it thought it wanted, and in a year in which voters are clamoring for change, that may have been a big miscalculation.
Moreover, although Republican attacks on Hillary go way overboard (“lock her up”; “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi”; she’s responsible for the deaths of innocent youths at the hands of undocumented immigrants) there’s plenty left that makes voters’ lack of trust for Hillary plausible. Both Bill and Hillary Clintons’ political careers has been about moving the Democratic party away from its New Deal roots to the corporate center. She’s flipped leftward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Keystone Pipeline and the $15 minimum wage, but one can’t help but wonder if she’d flip back if elected.
In storing official State Department data on a server in her Chappaqua, N.Y., home, while FBI Director James Comey correctly concluded that there was insufficient basis for a criminal prosecution, Clinton did put the data in greater danger of being hacked. It’s not out of bounds to say that Clinton may have risked national security to protect her personal self-interest in privacy.
Also, as I’ve previously written, there has also been a soft corruption to the Clintons. The over $130 million earned in speaking fees earned by Bill and Hillary since 2000, often from Wall Street, and the Clinton Foundation soliciting contributions from corrupt foreign governments and oligarchs don’t sit well.
Hillary Clinton’s status quo politics and soft corruption—all of this gives Donald Trump a chance of prevailing in the fall, despite his own low popularity ratings.
It doesn’t mean that Trump should win. Trump is a racist, xenophobic, misogynist who has played to the darkest, and even proto-fascist, elements in America. I shudder with fear and loathing watching the Republican convention.
And Trump is even more corrupt and dishonest than Clinton: telling so many lies that the fact checkers can’t keep up; changing positions several times a day; building his businesses by cheating contractors and workers; using bankruptcy to line his pocket while fleecing lenders. Trumps dishonesty, narcissism and instability makes Clinton seem like a choir girl.
Trump must be defeated. In Weimar Germany, parties of the left and center were so busy fighting each other that they allowed Hitler to come to power, and we know how that worked out. For that reason, despite Hillary Clinton’s manifest flaws, I will do everything I can to help her defeat Trump for the presidency, even while working to institutionalize and make the political revolution embodied by Sanders permanent.
It would be a lot easier if Clinton would make a vice-presidential pick that would energize her voters to go to the polls, someone like Elizabeth Warren, whom I’ve described in a previous article as the LeBron James of American politics, a true superstar.
But as of this writing, Clinton seems determined to go with a boring, cautious corporate centrist. If that’s the case, it will help demobilize her base and strengthen Trump’s case that’s he’s the change and Clinton is the status quo.
In this anti-status quo year, caution is dangerous and audacity is actually the safer course.