The key weakness of the Democratic campaign in the election of 2016 is that the Clintons and the party will use a strategy developed for Barack Obama and try to fit Hillary Clinton into it. It will be like fitting a round peg into a square hole.
The basis of the Obama/Democratic strategy has been identity politics. Look in the mirror and vote for yourself, the campaign seems to say. If you are black, vote for Obama. If you are a woman, vote for Hillary. If you are gay or young or single, vote for the candidate who suits your needs, be it Hillary or Obama.
But the central element of this strategy is to take the candidate out of the campaign and make the contest all about the hot-button issues – like abortion and gay marriage – that matter most to each constituency. Throw in negatives against one’s opponent and you have the Obama strategy.
Key to its success has been the ability of no-drama-Obama to take his own personal issues out of the campaign. The president had no scandal lurking in his closet. He had no deleted emails or separate Internet servers. He was not raking in tens of millions in speaking fees. He had no conflicts of interest with his donors that dominate the headlines. He had nothing that makes him the issue.
But Hillary is awash in scandal. Her cover-ups, lies and penchant for secrecy have assured that she has to spend her entire waking day running away from scandals.
There is no time for her campaign to focus on the issues that matter for their core constituencies. She herself is the dominant issue. In this environment, there is no time for a candidate to run on identity politics. It is her identity, personality and record that become the central issue of the campaign.
But Republicans must take care who they nominate to go against Hillary. It can’t be a candidate with the potential to be Romney-ed as happened to our nominee in 2012.
For example, if our nominee is Carly Fiorina, we will be inviting Hillary’s campaign to run ads about every worker she fired. The emotional sub-stories (akin to the charge that Romney didn’t care about whether a worker’s wife died when he took over the company) will come to dominate the campaign, and Hillary will no longer be the issue.
But beyond potential negatives, the GOP must take care that it does not nominate someone who cannot attack Hillary on her most vulnerable points. Rick Santorum correctly predicted, in 2012, that Romney would be hamstrung by his support for Romneycare in Massachusetts to the point where he could not use Obamacare against the president.
Similarly, Jeb Bush is the one candidate who cannot use Hillary’s leading negative against her: Dynasty. He can’t run against her as too old or too rich. Nor can he fully exploit her massive foreign sources of income in light of his own service on foreign company boards. By surrendering these issues, we would give Hillary a huge advantage, which might give her the election victory.
But Republicans need to go beyond Hillary herself in their campaign issues. They must break apart the cohesion of the identity politics groups that underscore the Democratic coalition. These issues are like electrons one shoots at the atom to break it apart and trigger a chain reaction.
The most susceptible of the identity-politics voter blocs are women and Latinos. While Democrats would hope that abortion, reproductive rights and equal pay are the critical issues for women and that immigration is what lights up Hispanic voters, the polls show this is not the case.
Both women and Latinos rank education very highly in their list of concerns, easily trumping social issues for women and border control questions for Hispanics.
And education can become a core Republican issue, especially if Scott Walker is the nominee. The Democratic Party can be forced to choose between its donors in the teachers unions and the mothers whose support it needs.
Mothers are increasingly understanding that issues like our inability to rid the system of incompetent teachers, paying good teacher more through merit pay and giving parents the choice of where to send their children to school are the real factors that inhibit quality education. The old quantitative issues (more money vs. budget cuts) are no longer the key variable in educational improvement.
Similarly, we can reach beyond immigration and amnesty to win Latino voters. Polling suggests a deep division between the three-quarters of Hispanic voters who were born in the United States and the one-quarter who were born abroad. The foreign-born Latinos treat immigration as the key issue and would not consider voting for a Republican because of it. But the 75 percent that were born here are much more likely to base their votes on traditional issues like jobs and education. Here, Hillary’s relative ignorance about economic issues and her rigid adherence to the dictates of the teachers unions work to her serious disadvantage.
Finally, the campaign against Hillary must focus on her constant, almost daily flip-flops on virtually every issue in our politics. By making this the issue, we take away her capacity for advocacy. Who cares what Hillary says now? She’ll change her mind and violate her most solemn commitments the moment it suits her political advantage. A proper campaign about flip-flops (like the windsurf ad against Kerry) can take away her ability to campaign.
Hillary will sink herself if we let her. The image of dishonesty, inauthenticity and deceit will haunt her all campaign.
Republicans need to:
- make her the issue;
- not nominate someone who can become the issue;
- not nominate someone who cannot use her major vulnerabilities against her;
- stress her changes of position to make everyone cynical about anything she says; and
- use the education issue to peel off mothers, Anglo and Latino, by forcing her to choose between the unions and her voters.
A campaign guided by these basic precepts will be very likely to save us from a Hillary presidency.