November 19, 2018

Why Clinton needs to adopt Sanders’ message

Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee for president, and Donald Trump is going to be the Republican.  But unless she signs on to Bernie Sanders’ message, she may not be able to beat Trump, and even if she does, without the mandate and the Congress that running on Sanders’ message could win her, she won’t be able to govern.

I’m not worried my nominee predictions might be wrong.  After all, amnesia has been very good to Bill Kristol, who’s never been right about anything, so when the race turns out to be Ted Cruz versus Bernie Sanders, you’ll be too preoccupied factoring climate change into real estate prices in Auckland or Vancouver to ream me for whiffing so badly.

But it’s not farfetched that Trump will be on the ballot. True, Marco Rubio’s South Carolina resurrection keeps the “establishment lane” narrative going, a relief to the Republican donor class and the lobbyists who love them.  But Trump’s voters don’t want a Beltway lane; they want an off ramp. To them, Rubio is just Jeb 2.0, road kill waiting to happen.  To be sure, Cruz has his own outsider appeal, but he’s too reptilian to beat Trump on entertainment value, and in an age of show biz, that’s a deal breaker.  

As for Trump, there’s apparently nothing he can say that will turn his base off, and nothing he can do that isn’t ratings gold.  Plus the rules the GOP adopted for their 2016 primaries, as The New York Times’ Nate Cohn “>says the New York Times, in which millennials “make up the same proportion of the electorate as do baby boomers – about one-third.”  Those young people, Pew Research Center’s Paul Taylor “>delegate-count hole all the way to the convention.

What message is Clinton is using to beat him? When she calls Sanders a single-issue candidate, she looks like the cat that swallowed the canary. It enables her to reel off problems – like Flint, Ferguson and ISIS – that seem orphaned by Sanders’ single-mindedness. It also has the unadvertised benefit of turning a key liability of hers, one that plagues many progressives, into an implied strength.  The weakness: Her message is a list.

Sanders has a theme, an anthem, a crusade; Clinton has a bunch of bullets.  They’re good bullets – it’s my to-do list, too. But Democratic candidates tend to suffer from nine-point plans for this and four-pillar programs for that. Of course there’s virtue in being specific, policy-oriented and comprehensive, but there’s also the risk of attention fatigue. The message on Trump’s hat may be a reactionary slogan, and his speeches, if you can call them that, add little to it but braying, but his crowds know what banner they’re marching behind. So do Bernie’s. 

Even if Clinton beats Trump, if her mandate is a list, it’s hard to see her win translate to more than the same obstructionist gridlock that clipped Obama’s wings. Yes, I know her message is also her person, and breaking the ultimate glass ceiling will motivate her base, but the billion dollars’ worth of mud the Citizens United crowd will throw at her will make her trustworthiness more salient than her gender or her experience. Trump can be torn down, too, but it’s still fighting on his terms.  That’s why a galvanizing positive message is so important.

The morning after Nevada and South Carolina, Trump “>says Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “I have friends in the FBI and they tell me they’re ready to indict,”