As Hillary Stalls, Where’s the Democratic Bench?

Out of the Frying Pan, into What Flame?

Advancing the ’80’s taunt, “where’s the beef,” anti-Hillary Democratic voters should now demand “where’s the backup, the winning bench players?” For evidence is not hard to find a rerun of Hillary’s clumsy ’08 implosion is gaining steam. The headline from Salon’s Bill Curry pulls no punches, “Hillary Clinton just doesn’t get it: She’s already running a losing campaign.” Nor does his subhead, “Rand Paul has edged in front of her. Jeb thinks she’ll be easy to defeat. She’s playing right into their hands.”

unnamedPlus, for Hillary critics, is a beautiful chart or what?

Favorable ratings crash while unfavorables soar, as negatives rise in 12 months from the mid-20’s to the high 40’s! New catchphrase: Wrong-way Hillary! So that makes a question even bigger than “who is Hillary,” namely, which reliever steps in when a wobbly frontrunner collapses, even before the primary gets going? What happens when HC looks like an inevitable loser against centrist Jeb Bush or goofy loudmouths like Gov. Walker? What becomes “inevitable” when inevitability turns out to be the least reliable star, when HC’s global name recognition, as the best-known woman politician, turns irreversible liability?

So, with more blessings than so far warranted, left activists must advance these most inevitable questions: who boldly challenges HC from the progressive side, if only to push her in the right direction? And when HC fails, who stands the best chance against the shockingly “inevitable” Regressive Republican? If HC stands steadfastly for the grievous status quo, who battles the radical right as it crusades for an even worse status quo, glorifying their bygone racist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-women “golden age”? And we’re not whistling Dixie here, as Huff Post last week detailed HC’s surprising voter falloff in key battle ground states:

“Revisiting Swing State ‘Wilt’Thursday’s newsletter featured results from a set of new Quinnipiac polls showing Hillary Clinton’s general election margins slipping a few points in three key battleground states, Colorado, Iowa and Virginia.”

Serious Erosion, Wrong Way Hillary

The mounting data shows ominous HC polling is a yearly trend, an inexorable voter slide since the ex-Sec’y of State held the least partisan of cabinet positions. Hardly in campaign mode, her private email scandal, unforced gaffes, and overt media hostility ignite her worst negatives: skirting the rules, secrecy, sleaze, and ham-fisted cover-up. Voters are far more flexible, even forgiving when policies shift, even reverse, but once a favored frontrunner gets repeatedly dinged with big time blows to character, trustworthiness, and authenticity, we’re talking electoral death smooches.

And it’s not as if HC failed to play it safe, with a year of wary front porch campaigning: she’s avoided controversy like Obama at a KKK weekend bash. By not taking compelling stances, or advancing anything big “to sell” like systemic reforms that would galvanize wider support, HC’s omissions amplify damage from her “inevitable” PR fiascos, still cornered by her self-induced “private email scandal.”

The result is that a suspect candidate, who’s never beaten a tough opponent, emerges as nothing new (indeed old) when Democrats and the country want so much more. When mere name-recognition is your strong suit, that makes support a mile wide and an inch thick. How far will this “inevitable” pitch go, “Yes, time for woman to face down the vast, rightwing conspiracy, time for a woman Democrat who knows how to face down terrorism and foreign threats. Time for a woman to finish Obamacare and support crushed middle-class families. Obama did great, like my manly husband, but with the full support of all the American people, this woman Democrat can do better.” Yawn, especially during hard times for scads of outsourced Americans who’ve lost homes, jobs and pensions, under siege by rightwing governors out to increase the misery. Too little, too late.

Progressive Falter, Insult to Injury

That’s why Elizabeth Warren missed the mark by not pressing press HC hard on TPP and WS reform. EW acted like HC is suddenly a blank slate: “I think we need to give her a chance to decide if she’s going to run and to lay out what she wants to run on.” Look, neither Warren nor HC can have it both ways: either Hillary is teeming with experience, a known, fully vetted commodity, or else she’s so bereft of knowing her own mind we must all wait with baited breath for NEW or striking declarations. Right, double yawn.

What happens on that glorious parade of declarations when HC reveals what she’s for? What if she is exactly for the entrenched powers she’s been for since early Clinton years? Old hat indeed falls way short of Warren’s disingenuous, postponed deflections. And when HC disappoints further, adding empty pledges to her untrustworthiness, watch her battered favorables go further south. By then, pragmatic Democratic visionaries will certainly be shut out.

Ah, the party bench, as Dems are dying for a primary contest. Joe Biden? Ho hum, already used up. Or the barely known, if appealing Jim Webb from VA or Martin O’Malley from MD? RI’s Lincoln Chaffee, ex-Republican, is making noises — but no waves from that plunge. Clearly Warren stays in the Senate, and while Bernie Sanders fits the progressive policy, how does his non-party, career designation prompt big funders to hand over a billion+ dollars?). I hope I’m wrong on Sanders’s chances but call me skeptical.

A knowledgeable friend, who tracks historical voting patterns, was only half-joking when quipping, “so how does Al Gore or John Kerry look, even Gerry Brown, when party voters turn against Hillary, distrusted and vulnerable?” Aghast at defending veteran has-beens (though arguably better known than BS, more liberal than HC), I got his question: where can the party go, if not from the frying pan into the fire? And for progressives, the task is even more severe: if not Sanders, then what Democrat even pushes the long-overdue Pitchforks against Plutocracy plank?  Plus, rail against the stagnant status quo and force pledges, whoever gets the nomination? It ain’t a pretty picture but it improves when HC departs.

Robert S. Becker was educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English). He left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. "Writing for the public taught me how to communicate." From '92-02 he did marketing consulting, grant, and business writing. Since '02, he scribbles on politics, science and culture, looking for the wit in the shadows. Read other articles by Robert.