The 2016 U.S. Election

At this point in time, I have a difficult time imagining how any of the prospective Republican candidates defeats Hillary Rodham Clinton in a general election.

Clinton has some strong negatives, and she has a lot of baggage. But baggage doesn’t matter: the news cycle gets hysterical and overwrought about news, not history. So Clinton’s biggest advantage may be the fact that Republicans have been attacking her for so long that they have used up the novelty value of every possible scandal. Whitewater? Travelgate? Vince Foster? Benghazi? All old news. What shocking development can you offer? The answer is, not much. Oh, there are scandalous things about Hillary Clinton but the Republicans are in no position to attack her links to Saudi princes or corporations or giant banks and investment firms. Or the emails. What else have you got?

They will try to make it sound like there are new revelations about the known scandals. It won’t work: the news grinder requires fresh flesh. They should have saved something for the middle of the campaign.

The truth is, Clinton was a middling to good Senator but a mediocre Secretary of State. She had no major accomplishments while serving Obama in that capacity– no peace treaties, no increase in American influence at the United Nations or elsewhere. Her “reset” of the U.S.’s relationship with Moscow is now in tatters. No solutions to the endless cycle of violence in the Middle East. She is more supportive of Israel than Obama ever was, and that will inoculate her against Republican attacks on that issue, but she might be wise to step up her support for a Palestinian homeland: Netanyahu doesn’t not play as well with the majority of Americans as Republicans think he does.

Clinton has several substantial advantages over any Republican opponent. The Democrats will have the Hispanic vote locked up once again as the Republicans take turns vilifying illegal immigrants (which translates into people who look and sound like immigrants, like all Hispanics). The Republicans pretty well have to win Florida, and probably Colorado to take the presidency– not likely if the Hispanic voters in those states turn out again for the Democrats, the party that advocates a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegals still living and working in the country.

Will the change in the relationship to Cuba benefit the Republicans? How? I can’t see it. But I can see a lot of Cuban-Americans in Florida glad to finally be able to travel home to see relatives, and send money to them, and consider the possibility of further positive changes in Cuba’s economic policies as they open up to American contacts. That’s Democrat policy: the Republicans want to…. what? Go back to the embargo?

Do the Republicans want to try to reassert themselves on gay marriage? Good luck. Even younger Republicans now tend to support marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Even Scott Walker’s own sons argued for it to their dad, who seems to be carefully reassessing his own position on the issue. Not for political reasons, of course, not.

Clinton will probably take a disproportionate share of the women’s vote. I suspect that even a fair number of enlightened Republican women will be more enamored of the idea of the first woman president than they will be averse to her policies.

Clinton has wisely chosen to campaign on Obama’s record, at least to some extent. I have never believed it was ever a good strategy to run against the record of your predecessor even if he is unpopular, if he is from your own party. You end up confirming the opposition’s view, and imply that a change of party might be a good thing. Obamacare is eminently defensible, as are Obama’s policies on the environment, wages, social security, consumer credit, and infrastructure. Clinton can campaign on the idea that Obama’s policies were good but a Republican Congress obstructed them. She could well argue that she is more able to work with her opponents– there’s a case to be made.

The Republicans are trying to sell Americans on the idea that Obama’s economic performance has been dismal. Do any of them really believe it? Do any of them seriously believe that McCain would have a lower unemployment rate than Obama right now? Or higher economic growth? Or a healthier stock market? Just how ridiculous an assertion can you get away with nowadays?

Clinton is not always great on the campaign trail but she will certainly be more tested and experienced than any of her Republican opponents. Would you vote for a Marco Rubio or Scott Walker over Hillary Clinton if you were concerned about experience and prudence and competence? Maybe.

Here’s another concern for the Republicans, which I would worry about a lot if I was one: if Clinton campaigns well and generates enthusiasm for the idea of the first woman president, and she adopts Obama’s organizational smarts about getting out the vote, and the Republican candidate tanks, a lot of these voters, of course, will vote for the rest of the slate too, in an election year in which more Republican seats are up for grabs than Democrat. I doubt there would be enough to turn the House over, but I think it is not at all unlikely that the Senate could switch back to a Democrat majority.

To do that, Clinton has to convey a sense of competence– something she is fairly good at– because the Republican candidate, no matter who he is, will have limited foreign policy credentials. It is clear that, at the moment, Jeb Bush would have the best chance of defeating her in a general election (unless John Kasich gets nominated, which he wont), but his liabilities– being Bush (after the failed presidency of his brother)– are worse than hers (married to Bill Clinton, whom many Americans–76% in the last poll– would vote for again in a flash, if he were running).

It is about coalitions. I don’t see the Republican coalition right now. They have lost the three galvanizing issues they used to exploit fully in this regard: gun control, crime, and gay marriage. Anyone can claim they would have done better in the Middle East than Obama but you are going to have say what it was you would have done and if it includes invading or bombing another Middle Eastern nation, you may not convince most Americans.