February 15, 2016 by David K. Sutton
The Hillary Clinton Pragmatic-Electability Premise
There are two intertwined premises looming large when one argues in favor of supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. The first premise is that Hillary is the more electable candidate. The second premise is that Hillary will have the most success working with a (presumably) Republican-controlled congress. But, should we accept these premises?
The Electability Premise
This premise posits that Hillary Clinton is more favorable in a general election because Bernie Sanders is too far to the left. The Hillary campaign must frame it this way, because the alternate way of framing it is to say Hillary is more of a centrist establishment candidate, and that is hardly a good way to win an election in a year where the electorate is looking to eschew the establishment. Another problem with the Hillary Clinton electability premise is that it ignores her loss to Barack Obama in 2008 where the same premise was posited, and it also ignores her underwater trustworthiness with the public. In an election year where voters are looking for authenticity, it makes it hard for Hillary Clinton to make the case that she is more electable when, right or wrong, she has faced over two decades of (mostly Republican created) baggage. This is not entirely her fault of course, but it is a reality that must be acknowledged.
The Pragmatic Premise
This premise posits that Hillary Clinton is the more pragmatic candidate, and she will have the most success working with a Republican congress. But, this premise has two fatal flaws.
1. Hillary Clinton is enemy number one for Republicans, and this is something Hillary has proudly proclaimed during the campaign. It’s tough to argue you are the best candidate to work with a Republican congress while simultaneously acknowledging and lauding the fact that Republicans hate your guts.
2. Republicans won’t give up any ground no matter how close a Democratic president comes to their position on an issue. President Obama has tried for years to prove otherwise, but even he has backed away from his default position of trying to work with Republicans. That means there’s really no benefit in negotiating from a centrist viewpoint, because Republicans are uninterested in any compromise with a Democratic president. Doing so only pushes negotiations further to the right. With that reality, the better approach is to have a Democratic president who will not go along with gutting social programs in the name of cutting a deal. It would be better to have four (or eight) years of getting nothing done than to allow a centrist Democratic president to go along with a regressive Republican congress, allowing past achievements to wither and/or die.
It is an uphill battle for Hillary Clinton, because she is trying to make it clear Republicans hate her, while also guaranteeing she is the most pragmatic choice to work with them. Bernie Sanders might be further to the left, but Republicans have yet to concoct an invalidating or delusional cult-of-personality around him. And in that sense, at least Republicans are likely to respect Bernie’s authenticity, even if they completely disagree with his politics. In Washington D.C. in 2016 and beyond, that is about as pragmatic as it gets.