Some advice for Hillary
Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump on the Republican side, has a big lead in national polls. Yet, like him, she is still vulnerable due to her sizable net unfavorable ratings. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, according to polls, is viewed more likable by voters. I would argue that he is also benefitting from relatively low name recognition and how little many voters know about him outside of the early primary states–the one’s he’s campaigned heavily in. Those, I would remind readers, have not been representative of the rest of the country. This renders his stronger-than-Hillary match-up showings against the various Republican hopefuls unreliable. I believe that outside of his core support, mostly younger voters and ideologues, he is viewed simply as a likable alternative to Hillary. This is an abstraction and holds only temporary advantage. Consider the huge lead Hillary had in early polls. This was destined to erode. When you see a candidate close up, you also see his or her warts. You can count on the opposition to point these out as well as invent some others.
Assuming that Hillary would be the Democratic Party’s candidate, Republicans have been going at her pretty much non-stop, as the Benghazi Committee, chaired by Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, has demonstrated (It was this committee that expanded their scope of inquiry to include her emails, and then more emails, and an endless number of requests for her emails. No doubt thus successfully eroding Hillary’s weak link, which according to polls is her image of trustworthiness or rather untrustworthiness. Count on it, Karl Rove’s well-funded super PAC has a number of “dirty tricks” up his sleeve to further hammer at Hillary’s low trustworthy numbers. Already there have been numerous right-wing sites on-line that regularly assert that the Justice Department is ready to indict Clinton. The Republican-leaning Rasmussen Poll, after mentioning her, asked respondents whether a person indicted for a felony should be allowed to run for President. Fox News’ now famous Megyn Kelly, brought on the right-wing ideological “Judge” Andrew Napolitano to conclude his belief that the FBI will indict Hillary–a quote of which right-wing internet sites are jumping all over as if it were a reality.” Just in case,” Republican hopefuls at the South Carolina town hall Wednesday night on CNN referred several times to Hillary or the “74 year old Socialist, Bernie Sanders.”
These kind of partisan attacks would be expected by anyone who had watched the mud-slinging going on in their own primary campaigns. But there seems to have be a “hands-off-the-rough stuff” approach between Hillary and Bernie, as the early presumption of a Hillary Clinton nomination required her regaining those that have “felt the Bern.” Bernie didn’t want his candidacy to have the unintended consequence of weakening her in the general election against whomever the Republicans finally settle on. Hillary responded in kind, being gentle with Sanders in the early debates. With the large New Hampshire victory by Sanders, and Saturday’s Nevada Caucus expected to be very close, expect the gloves to come off, or at least a little ways off shortly.
In my opinion, loosening the constraints on attacking one another will benefit Hillary. But it must be done with care if she is to hold on to his supporters for the general election.
I believe that with the right kind of educating campaign by Hillary, Bernie’s self-identification as a socialist, even as a “Democratic Socialist on the European model,” will become a losing feature of his image. While polls reveal a goodly number of Democrats are not disturbed by this, especially younger ones, a sizable number are left whom simply couldn’t elect a socialist. And that group is fully represented in the delegate-rich midwestern and southern states.
Whatever happens in Nevada, just a week later is the South Carolina primary, which, even if the margin narrows some as expected, should result in a comfortable win by Clinton. Aside from the “socialist” issue, Bernie’s Utopian program has flaws that Hillary can laser-focus on more effectively. More specifically, his argument that middle-class voters should be willing to accept a $500 tax to save $5000 in medical costs is deceiving. Those with better benefits insurance policies provided by their employer will simply be left with the tax bill. And those who have some doctors who won’t accept Medicare payments will have to buy supplemental insurance in addition to the tax, if they are to be able to continue those doctors. I can’t see him selling this tax to a great number of voters. I also doubt that Bernie’s medical plan has a chance in a thousand of being enacted by Congress either. This one issue, as appealing as universal health care is to many Democrats, as a vision to work towards, should prove his downfall if Hillary keeps on message about it. New taxes simply won’t sell.
Hillary Clinton should also use the primary campaign forums to consistently attack the Republican Congress. But she should forget multisyllabic terms that many voters don’t understand, such as “obstructionist,” which right-off-the-bat should be dumped in favor of the apt phrase “do nothing Congress.” Harry Truman upset Republican Governor Thomas Dewy for the presidency by constantly repeating the phrase, “the do nothing 80th Congress.” And he got a Democratic Congress in the bargain. Hillary should learn from that history.
Campaigning strategy has to be attuned to the way general elections are won.
In a general election, party identification accounts for slightly more than 4 out of 5 voting choices. So the basic strategy of Presidential election campaigns is really quite simple: Register new voters who are likely to vote for your candidate. Hold on to as many of your party’s voters as possible. Get the supporters to turn up on election day. Try to erode as much of your opponent’s own party support, either by getting them to switch to your side, or not vote at all. Finally win a majority of the independents. The devil, of course, is in the details. Polling will reveal on which issues your opponent is weakest with his or her party members and undecided voters. Finding simple-to-communicate messages that hit to the heart of those concerns, while being consistent with your own values so as not to appear disingenuous, patronizing, or pandering, is essential. In Hillary’s case, I believe that she can win the nomination by repeatedly referring to Bernie’s plan as something like: “an unworkable plan with a middle-class tax unreasonably imposed.” A focused attack on the “do nothing Republican Congress” should become a talking-point for all Democratic spokespeople. The expected stonewalling of President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court should reinforce the notion of a do nothing Congress, and become a major part of this Presidential campaign. This would also remind Bernie’s supporters of the stakes involved in winning or losing this presidential election once Hillary becomes the nominee.