In June, before the stunning, gaffe-generating disaster of Hillary Clinton’s book tour, Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Missouri) said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state is the “piñata that everyone loves to hit” because she is the “dominant candidate” for president in 2016.
The 2016 Real Clear Politics’ general election match-up polls support McCaskill’s argument. Hillary Clinton leads every Republican presidential hopeful by an average of 10 percentage points.
However McCaskill’s reference to Clinton as the “dominant candidate” reveals what an attractive target for Republicans Clinton, a dominant national figure for more than two decades, presents.
Republicans need to position Clinton as the de facto “incumbent presidential candidate” and hold her accountable for the unpopular, failed policies of President Obama as if they were her very own.
This tactic was successfully employed against Republicans by Obama and the Democrats during the last two presidential elections.
In 2008 Obama’s general election campaign waged war against the policies of President George W. Bush even though Arizona Senator John McCain, not Bush, was on the ticket.
The Democrats didn’t even need to update that playbook in 2012. Obama re-used the Bush card against the hapless Mitt Romney – an easy call when 68 percent of voters still blamed Bush for the continuing economic stagnation that was then in its sixth year.
Two years from now the GOP can win if Republicans have forged a strong campaign message against the record and policies of an Obama/Clinton ticket. In strictly practical terms, this ticket is easier to believe than either the Bush/McCain or Bush/Romney combo, for Clinton actually served a full term in the Obama White House, and neither McCain nor Romney served in the Bush administration.
Such a linking strategy must be fully implemented before the beginning of 2016 in order to balance the incumbent-like presidential organizational advantages Hillary Clinton’s team is currently building.
If Clinton does decide to run for President, she will sit atop an organization that has been operating and continually growing for three years. Never in the history of presidential campaign politics has a non-incumbent presidential candidate enjoyed such structural advantages.
Here is a closer look at two unofficial Clinton campaign organizations.
Ready for Hillary
Most formidable is Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC that will morph into a national campaign war machine as soon as General Hillary makes her official announcement — most likely at the beginning of 2015.
Since its inception in January 2013, Ready for Hillary has grown from 2 to 22 employees and spends about $100,000 a month on payroll.
The organization’s goal is to further improve President Obama’s then state-of-the-art 2012 reelection campaign, which relied heavily on gathering and implementing high-tech voter data with pin-point accuracy while engaging supporters with non-stop social media.
In fact, Ready for Hillary even employs some of the Obama campaign’s experienced high command, like Battleground States Director Mitch Stewart.
Ready for Hillary has already raised $8 million without a candidate and is eventually poised to raise over a billion with a candidate. At this juncture anticipating a future presidential announcement, the PAC is building campaign infrastructure in every corner of the nation.
Ready for Hillary is even spending to help selected national candidates win this November, in addition to beefing up state and local Democratic Party organizations, gathering prominent endorsements, and filling 55,000 donors’ in-boxes with Hillary rah rah.
By the time January 2016 rolls around, Clinton’s presidential campaign will be an established billion-dollar corporation beginning its third-year of operation.
Correct the Record
According to its website, Correct the Record is “a strategic research and rapid response team designed to defend potential Democratic presidential candidates from right-wing, baseless attacks.”
One glance indicates the organization is dedicated to protecting the media image of Hillary Clinton and mounting defenses against her old nemesis, the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Think of Correct the Record as an incumbent president’s press office. However, no presidential candidate has ever had such an organization in place three years before a general election.
On Correct the Record’s website is a highlighted quote from Hillary Clinton under the heading “2016” that reads: “In this world and the world of tomorrow, we must go forward together or not at all.”
If the GOP doesn’t want to be be forced to “go forward” with Madame President Clinton in three years, Republicans need to start connecting her with Obama’s domestic and foreign policy failures. Given Hillary Clinton’s organizational advantages, it won’t be easy to get that message out. But the good news is that Republicans have a ready-made 2016 message that is clear, effective and true.