Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is Hillary Helped by the Attacks?

I don't expect to post on the Democratic debate last night. It seemed to me that Hillary was
a man among boys -- so to speak -- and that no one on the stage was able to hit the robo-candidate in a meaningful way. I was not able to hang around until the end, so I missed the exchange over driver's licenses for illegal aliens.

Democratic strategist Peter Fenn makes a valid point however, in a piece he wrote before the debate about the likely barrage of attacks against Hillary -- they might help:

As for the Democrats’ strategy of all going after Hillary, one has to wonder how smart this really is for them. It seems to me that if Obama or Edwards is going to win Iowa, they are going to have to take votes away from the other Democrats. Their likelihood of pulling votes away from Hillary with an all-out attack is pretty slim. And by being strictly attack dogs, they risk losing some of their own support — witness John Edwards’s latest standing in the Iowa polls. Plus, there is nothing unique or different about joining in on the gang-up against Clinton. One might argue that if she handles these attacks deftly, she may, in fact, be helped by the perception of unfair piling-on...

My guess is that Hillary as the piƱata these next two months will actually strengthen her candidacy, not weaken it, and that “desperation Democrats” will be left by the wayside.
Fenn makes some important points -- notably that it helps no one to appear to be 'ganging up' on Hillary.

That said, I think that much of Hillary's support -- the part that clearly CAN be peeled away -- is due to a twin perception:
  1. That her candidacy is inevitable; and,
  2. That she is the most electable Democrat.
With that in mind, were I a rival of Hillary, I would attack her on not on policy, but on electability. I would argue that someone whose ceiling of support is so low, and whose association with the past so great, that she cannot win against a fresh-faced Republican in a change election. Further, I would try not to take on the attacks myself, I would try to get another candidate to act as proxy.

I'm sure that Joe Biden would like to be Secretary of State, Chris Dodd Secretary of the Treasury, and Bill Richardson Vice President. If you're Barack Obama or John Edwards, why not tell those candidates that the positions will be open in your administration -- to allies who've helped you get to the White House.

Such scenarios always work a lot better on paper than in real life, but if I wanted to beat Hillary for the Democratic nomination, that's the way I would go.

Update: Strong evidence from a leading liberal blog that the attacks on Hillary make her stronger:

If one of the cardinal rules of progressive politics is that you never repeat the talking points by which your opponents beat up on your own party, then what are we to think of last night’s Democratic debate, in which a principal tactic used by some of the non-Clintons was to repeat Republican talking points about Hillary Clinton?...

But the argument that Clinton in unelectable because her “negatives” are too high — that she’s so disliked Americans won’t vote for her — has always seemed one of those unproven Republican talking points that I suspect they only wish were true...

It seems silly to me that the Left would have a 'cardinal rule' which forbids candidates in a primary from dry-running the attacks that the nominee will likely face in the general. After all, if it's possible that Hillary is vulnerable to a criticism, wouldn't you like to know ahead of time? Still, if the Left wants to make sure that the nominee's first serious test comes in the general, when it's too late to change -- fine by me.

Regrettably for me, this post also suggests that attacking Hillary on electability -- the route I recommend for her Democratic challengers -- is the one most likely to increase her support.

Shows you what I know about liberal politics.

No comments: