A Tale of Two Hillarys (And One Bill)

Does he still have it? (AP photo)

Does he still have it?
(AP photo)

First up, Brian Beutler explains Hillary Clinton’s shift to the left:

There’s an ongoing debate in American politics over the extent to which the Obama coalition is unique to Obama, who is himself a unique historical figure. Are the younger, more progressive Democrats who swept him into office ready to do the same for a candidate who doesn’t check all of the same characterological boxes—youth, charisma, diversity?

Perhaps more importantly, Hillary Clinton also thinks the answer is yes—if, that is, you buy the cynical (but possibly accurate) interpretation of her leftward shift. In fact, this might be the most hopeful interpretation as far as liberals are concerned. Because if Clinton doesn’t have any core convictions, and is only saying whatever she thinks she has to say to win—if indeed she’s merely betting that things like campaign finance reform, same-sex marriage, and immigration reform will add up to a winning platform—then it’s a nod to her belief that the Obama coalition is stable, loyal, and larger than the Republican electorate.

Sean Trende however sees potential cracks:

I would call this the optimistic interpretation (from a liberal perspective) of her moves, even if you accept that this is simply cynical gamesmanship on her part. The pessimistic interpretation would stem from one of the theses of my book, “The Lost Majority”: that Obama modified Bill Clinton’s coalition into a narrower, deeper one. This enabled Obama to win a victory in 2008 that was almost as large as Clinton’s 1996 win without bringing Appalachians or working-class whites on board. The problem with such a coalition is that it doesn’t allow for much flexibility: At least for now, Democrats have to run up the score with different groups in order to win.

Under the pessimistic take, the Clinton Coalition is simply gone. Bill Clinton had managed to keep Appalachian voters and working-class whites in the Democratic camp through skillful positioning and a bit of luck. But over the course of the next decade, these voters finally broke with the Democrats.

I believe Clinton — Bill Clinton — could win back those lost voters, and he’s sure to be a strong presence on the campaign trail. My real “Oh crap” moment in 2012 was watching Bill’s keynote at the DNC. It was a brilliant speech, in which the beloved (for lack of a better word) former president gave voters permission to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, by telling them, “Even I couldn’t have fixed this economy in four years.” It was a classically Clinton speech — making himself the star of someone else’s convention, and it worked.

So the question for 2016 might not be whether the Obama Coalition can be transferred to Hillary. Her skills, her charisma, her appeal, are just not enough to get the job done. The question instead might be whether Bill still has the skill, the charism, the appeal to help Hillary (who belongs in jail) win back some of the old Clinton Coalition without alienating Obama voters.

Maybe Hillary then is the wrong target for the GOP, and for right-leaning bloggers like myself. Maybe the real target is still Bill, the star of everyone else’s show.