The mainstream media is very adept at highlighting the alleged rift in the Republican Party, but they turn a blind eye and a deaf ear towards a rift in the Democratic Party. Despite the apparent anointing of Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic nominee for President, there are serious issues within that party. A Clinton candidacy will only make those problems more transparent as a campaign develops and drags on especially if another candidate throws their name into the mix.
In general terms, the media and political pundits like to point out that in Republican primaries and caucuses, the more conservative elements turn out en masse. The same is true of Democratic Party primary voters- more liberal voters turn out to a greater degree than the more moderate voices in that party. That is why during primaries, most Republican candidates tack to the right while Democratic candidates tack to the left. When candidates are chosen, they both gradually move to the center attempting not to alienate their “base.” This is a fact of political life and it works on both sides of the equation.
With Clinton, there are some serious reservations among the more liberal members of the Democratic Party regarding her performance as a 2008 candidate, as a Senator before that and as Secretary of State after that. In particular, they still hold a grudge against her regarding her vote for intervention in Iraq in 2002. By proxy, there are still some Democrats who complain about Bill Clinton’s supposed moderation of the Democratic Party during his presidency. And while the media circles the wagons and absolves Clinton of any responsibility regarding Benghazi, the fact remains this happened on her watch and that as Secretary of State, there is really nothing of paramount importance she achieved.
While a Senator, Clinton relied on liberals in New York to get her to DC. Soon thereafter, there were rumblings among these people that they felt “used.” For example, they stated that although she campaigned on an anti-war stance, her performance as Senator was anything but anti-war. In fact, she seemed unwilling to take on Bush in foreign policy matters. Even groups that advocated for women and children- a cause long associated with Clinton- criticized Clinton the Senator.
More recently, Netroots Nation- a collection of liberal bloggers with some influence in the Democratic Party (they are a coveted constituency)- were not that enamored with Hillary. Some expressed the fact that she was modeling herself not as a liberal Democrat, but along the lines of her husband and that is something the more liberal voices in the Democratic Party do not like. Others expressed the view that she was a “corporate Democrat” who would adopt a stance wherever the money led. Others were more specific in their criticisms. For example, some noted that although liberals love campaign finance reform, Clinton will take full advantage of the huge network of Democratic donors thus negating an argument for reforms they may have. Others note that her support of Israel at the expense of Palestinians- a growing chorus among liberals- is disconcerting. Perhaps this is why she recently had some negative comments about her “concerns for Israeli democracy.”
Then there is the fact that controversy and scandal has a way of following Clinton around. Since 2006, Judicial Watch has annually compiled a list of the top ten corrupt Washington politicians. That is eight years of lists. Hillary has made the list five times and twice was #1. She made the 2013 list based upon the questions left standing surrounding her role as Secretary of State involving Benghazi. That would be bad enough, but there are also her questionable actions involving the Clinton Foundation and Bill’s international ventures, especially when she was Secretary of State. Finally, there is also the apparent conflict of interest involving the employment of Huma Abedin (leaving aside her “connection” to Anthony Weiner).
Unlike the GOP which has a large cabal of possible candidates, the Democrats have basically Hillary Clinton. Some other names mentioned are Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, and Martin O’Malley. However, two names that have surfaced recently need to be mentioned. The first is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. The problem with Schweitzer, however, is that he would likely never make it through the Democratic primaries. The fact is he is too moderate for the likes of the Democratic base and even more moderate than Hillary. Although he would likely appeal in a general election and maybe even win, his problem is getting through the primaries.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, has the opposite problem. She is clearly to the left of Clinton and her entry into the race would most definitely pull Clinton to the left so much that moderation towards the center in a general election campaign may be blocked off. In effect, Warren is Clinton’s worst nightmare if she enters the race. Should Clinton declare her candidacy, I doubt Warren will enter the race in deference to Hillary. The last thing Warren wants to do is publicize the rift within the Democratic Party. Schweitzer has no such compunctions and he may just enter the race Hillary or no Hillary just to stir things up.
Ironically, if both Schweitzer AND Warren were to challenge Clinton, it would be to the clear advantage of Hillary. She would come off looking like the most centrist candidate and would not then have to change strategies transitioning to a general election campaign. The only other possibility is if another candidate emerges. Cuomo and O’Malley are not exactly household names and do not hail from electorally significant states. The Democrats do not “need” New York or Maryland; they already have those states. The wild card is Biden who may believe he is the heir-apparent to leadership of the Democratic Party. He has generally been laying low of late. Regardless, it is hard to see how Obamacare will not play a major role leading into the 2016 election. Both Hillary and Biden are closely associated with that unpopular legislation while neither Cuomo nor O’Malley have disavowed it. Warren, on the other hand, would prefer a socialized single-payer, government run system which may be even more unpopular than Obamacare.
Obviously, visits to Iowa should be watched this year, especially visits by Democrats. Brian Schweitzer has already made appearances there and has been cagey about his reasons and aspirations that several pundits believe he will throw his name in the hat and get a leg up on Clinton. In fact, during one visit, he was particularly critical of Clinton over her 2002 Iraq War vote. However, the Clinton fundraising apparatus is ready to go as is a media blitz and on-line advocacy. Hence, no one, in reality, has a “leg up.” Left out of this whole discussion is the fate of Joe Biden. Should Hillary enter the race, will he play the good soldier and retire to Delaware or will he fight for the nomination as the traditional heir apparent to the presidency for the party that is term-limited? Will he pull a Cheney and just fade away because of his age (not that Hillary is any spring chicken…) or will he be the “populist” choice?
It should also be noted that Schweitzer has been doing interviews that indicate a run in 2016. He says he has plans to visit all 99 counties in Iowa because it is on his bucket list. Yeah, right. He has been touting the fact that he lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, learned Arabic and has a strong working knowledge of that region. He has been equally critical of both Bush and Obama. His idea for health care reform sounds suspiciously “Republican” and its centerpiece is allowing selling insurance across state lines with some broad federal guidelines. His problem is name recognition at this point. When he is included in any hypothetical polling of Democrats in their preference for 2016, he gets no more than 5% at most.
When Max Baucus announced he would be retiring at the end of this term, the Democratic Party originally tried to recruit Schweitzer as a candidate. He deferred claiming he was too old for the House and too smart for the Senate- a backhanded slap at the Washington status quo. Unlike either Clinton or Warren, he could legitimately run as an outsider.
In reality, however, a Democratic Clinton-Schweitzer showdown would likely end in a Clinton victory since Clinton is the more liberal of the two. Still, the fact that she would not have such a clear-cut path to the nomination creates a complicating factor and may force Clinton to adopt some stances she may find antithetical to her political persona.