Running The Campaign Her Way
I find it interesting that Adam Nagourney and others in the mainstream media are just now noticing that Hillary is simultaneously running a primary and general election campaign, and a safe one at that. As a female candidate who started her campaign out of step with the anti-war base of her party in a post-9/11 world, it should be no surprise that Team Clinton would hold the base at arm's length, while neutering the right on foreign policy and managing the media to avoid potholes. Regardless of whether her approach appeals to you or leaves you cold and angry, Hillary’s campaign is a reflection of her policy inclinations, and the challenges facing a Democratic female candidate in a world where the Democrats have allowed themselves to be pinned up against the wall by a GOP fear machine.
She was never going to follow the traditional model of capturing the base during the primary season and then moving back to the middle for the general election because the key to her being electable is to avoid coming across as a leftist female candidate, and to gradually bring down her negatives through familiarity and contrasting herself with the neanderthals on the right. And this means running the general election now. We in the netroots may not like that, but for a woman to win in this post-9/11 media environment, a successful candidate needs to establish herself as tough, smart, disciplined, and yes, centrist.
It also requires that you manage the media, and manage your public access in a way that would make the Bush White House proud. After watching how the media treated Gore and Kerry, Team Clinton knows that any self-inflicted wound, gaffe, or brawl with your peers will be the drop of blood in the water that the media shark pack will use to drag you down. Her brush with a committed questioner about her regrettable vote on Kyl-Lieberman only reinforces to Team Clinton the need to avoid any possibility for the base to hold her accountable for her votes.
Instead of debating her votes on the war or national security with the base, a debate she may soon relish at an opportune time in her own Sista Souljah moment, she rightly pivots and steps into Edwards and Obama territory. Hillary has turned the focus of her campaign away from the war towards economic issues, and portrayed herself as a champion of the middle class, straight out of Bill's playbook.
But she has gone a step further and done what many of her critics though she would not do as an allegedly corporate candidate: she said that NAFTA and all trade deals need to be reopened and reconsidered every five years to see how they have benefited American workers. This is smart politics because a moderate hand on foreign affairs and a middle class economic message draws independent voters. By addressing the base’s concerns about trade and NAFTA, and stepping back into the fight on health care, she is appealing to both the base and independent voters on pocketbook issues, areas where Democrats will clobber the GOP next year.
I fully expect Hillary to continue the general election campaign she is running, avoiding protracted hand-to-hand combat with Edwards and Obama, because such fights do her no good right now. She is now leading in Iowa, and she is running ahead of all Republicans nationally. She has positioned herself so that no Republican can hit her on foreign policy, while she can eviscerate them on economic issues and health care.
Like many in the base, I didn’t like her vote on Kyl-Lieberman, nor do I like her realistic assessment that there may be tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq in 2013, notwithstanding the likelihood that the Iraqis will toss us out of there well before then. But from a political perspective that takes into account our post-9/11 media and her need as a female candidate to move to the center first, I fully understand Team Clinton’s approach.