If the GOP fails to pick up minority votes, Hillary Clinton will stroll into the White House
By Tom Rogan US politics Last updated: June 9th, 2014
Hillary Clinton's supporters are mobilising
In baseball, the on-deck circle is the waiting area for the next-in-line batter. It’s here that the batter psyches himself up, analyses the opposing pitcher, and tries to perfect his swing. When a major player is on-deck, the TV cameras swing into action highlighting his every move and building the anticipation. Correspondingly, the on-deck circle allows a player to build a persona.
Enter Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera is one of the best batters in major league baseball. Perhaps the finest of his generation. Even now, at 31, his skill remains undeniable. But Cabrera is aware his supporters always expect more than good hitting. So on May 18, on his way to the deck, Cabrera shook hands with a young fan. His message was clear: I don’t take my reputation for granted. This political instinct has enabled Cabrera to move beyond messy arguments over his drinking and a spell in rehab.
Hillary Clinton is trying to be a political version of Miguel Cabrera.
Like Cabrera, she’s aware of her fervent supporters. The Democratic base adores her – often instinctively (watch this amusing video) – and senior Democrats believe she’s their best bet for a 2016 Presidential victory. Even Democrats once sceptical of Clinton now believe that 2016 is "her turn": that’s she’s earned the right to lead at the highest level. The power of this groundswell is undeniable. Consider President Obama’s recent interview alongside the desperate-to-be-President Joe Biden, in which Obama seemed to offer a tentative endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Biden’s downcast look said it all.
Like Cabrera, Clinton is looking to the history books. In her campaign-style speeches, and alongside Hard Choices, her book due to be published on Tuesday, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton is making her way to the centre of the presidential on-deck circle.
But her victory is not certain. Clinton remains deeply unpopular with Republicans. Many conservatives have long regarded Clinton as a calculating and hyper-partisan liberal. This belief has found new energy since the September 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi: expect Clinton’s "what difference does it make" quote to feature heavily in Republican campaign ads. Republicans will try to link Clinton to Obama’s perceived failures.
This looming negativity is Clinton’s version of Cabrera’s prior legal difficulties. And ultimately, they’re why Clinton is releasing Hard Choices: her version of Cabrera's fan cultivation. Like all campaign books, Clinton’s is designed to attract support from across the political spectrum. Read this review from The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, which captures its (calculated) frankness and subtlety.
Appealing to liberals, Clinton apologises for her Iraq vote "…. got it wrong. Plain and simple." She also claims a "shouting match" with the former CIA Director over drone attacks. These passages are not included by accident. Both Iraq and the CIA drone program remain a sore point for many voters who picked Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary and are now disillusioned with him. Clinton is trying to bring them into her camp.
Appealing to centrists, Clinton presents herself as a caring, self-deprecating servant of the public interest. Someone aware of the responsibility of power. Someone aware of previous image problems.
Appealing to Republican-leaning foreign policy realists, Clinton distances herself from idealism over the Egyptian revolution and the President’s difficult relationship with Israel (always a priority for Presidential candidates). More amusingly, Clinton also tries to separate herself from the failure of the US-Russia diplomatic "reset" (which she led), while claiming credit for the Iraq surge (which she opposed).
In short, Clinton is trying to get ahead of her critics, reset ambivalent-negative perceptions of her tenure as Secretary of State, and gain national security credibility. Put another way, she’s running for President.
Regardless, Clinton will be hard to beat. Praised by a number of key figures in the bi-partisan national security establishment – including former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and former Afghanistan and US Special Forces commander Stan McChrystal – Clinton 2016 will have a stronger national security message than in 2008 (remember Clinton’s Bosnia sniper fire claims?). Moreover, with the support of her husband and President Obama, Clinton in 2016 will raise a great deal of money.
Therefore, in order to beat her, Republicans will have to do three things. First, they’ll have to nominate a candidate who can appeal to both conservatives and independents. Second, they'll have to use the primary process to shape an inclusive message and avoid the internecine warfare that shredded the Republican brand in 2012. Third, they’ll have to link Clinton to growing public discontent with the Obama administration’s agenda. Most specifically on Obamacare and the economy.
As I’ve argued before, Republicans will make a terrible mistake if they win control of Congress in November’s midterm elections (increasingly likely) but then assume that victory will usher them into the White House. If Republicans fail to garner support from minority and unmarried voters, Mrs Clinton will stroll to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016.
Still, as with Cabrera, Hillary Clinton’s path to the front pages of history is not assured. If Republicans can offer a compelling and inclusive alternative, Clinton's Wikipedia page may conclude with "Secretary of State". Just don't count on it.