Hillary Clinton is the only horse the Democrats have in the 2016 presidential race, and everyone knows this. True, there were those who thought she was the “inevitable” candidate in 2008, but there was also an awareness at the time of rising stars such as Barack Obama, who were just (incorrectly) thought to be a little before their own time. Now there are no such rising stars, at least none who are bright enough to have reached my eyes as a semi-avid politics consumer. So if Hillary is it, what must she do to win the general election battle against a Republican candidate who will likely be a practical governor of a politically-divided state?
Clinton has one very big structural advantage: she doesn’t have a real primary battle ahead of her, so there’s no need for her to swing far left in the primary and then somehow sneak back towards the middle in the general election. Every Republican candidate, however, will likely attempt to perform this jiujitsu (though I think the really smart ones should not), and will have untenable far-right statements and positions they’ll have to wriggle their way out of in the general election.
The real battle will be fought in the areas where Clinton can co-opt traditionally Republican ideals and ideas, and vice versa. We already see this among Republicans, who have been actively discussing income inequality, relabelled as “wage stagnation”. Here are three areas where Hillary can take some real ground from her Republican counterpart.
1) Tax reform. Few think labyrinthine tax codes that can only be gamed by those wealthy enough to hire a team of professionals are actually a good thing. There are real and fierce debates about how the tax code should be reformed, but it’s easy enough to take up the banner of reform itself as an important issue, to say that it’s worth time and effort to try to tackle it. I, for one, don’t think that spelling out proposed details is a bad idea, as it will signal seriousness and practicality to us swing voters even if we don’t agree with all the details.
2) Military spending. Republicans themselves are internally divided into camps over this issue. On the one hand are those who are knee-jerk pro-strong-defense conservatives, who think any dollar spent on national defense and “supporting our troops” is a dollar well-spent. On the other hand are those whose fiscal conservativeness forces them to see that our military spending is far out-of-whack with historical norms for our current defense needs, especially when weighed against our deficits and debt. Interestingly, in 2008 Hillary seemed to choose to align herself with the former contingent, the defense hawks. That to me felt like needless pandering and didn’t speak of the practicality that many independents have their ears tuned for.
3) Health care. This may not seem like “conservative” battleground that Hillary can take, and it may not be, but there must be millions of Republicans and independents who can see from their own lives or the lives of those around them that it is a bad idea to go back to a world where one’s life can be destroyed by circumstances out of one’s control that lead to an inability to get health care. Also, since the law is already in place, it is in a sense conservative to not want to immediately repeal it, causing more rather than less instability and unpredictability in the health care sector. Admittedly, to me as a swing voter, one of the biggest reasons I would vote for Clinton over a Republican governor who I thought was otherwise reasonable would be a fear of repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which they’ll all likely commit to in the Republican primary.
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As to military spending, she should co-op the positions of someone like Bob Gates, the ex Sec of Def. He is widely admired and is very frustrated with the way Congress deals with military spending. He would say that for the most part, a particular member of Congress’ position on any military spending is almost entirely dependent upon how much the cost cutting will affect their particular district.