Democrats Never Get Mandates
August 16, 2016

I have some reservations about Hillary Clinton's electoral strategy, but unlike many of the people quoted in this New York Times story, I'm not going to worry about whether the strategy is going to deprive her of a mandate. I know Democrats don't get to have mandates:

Liberal Democrats and progressive activists have grown wary of the state of the 2016 presidential race, chafing at Hillary Clinton’s big-tent courtship of Republican leaders they have long opposed and fearing the consequences of shaping the contest as a referendum on Donald J. Trump....

She may win by a mandate-level margin, they say. But what, exactly, would the mandate be for?

... “If she’s going to get anything done as president, she is going to have to have a mandate,” said Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor in Bill Clinton’s administration who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary.

Reich wants Clinton to campaign on "a few big ideas," instead of running as the major-party candidate who isn't a dangerous lunatic. He thinks her current approach will prevent her from having a mandate after the election is over.

I don't understand Reich's naïveté. He was in Bill Clinton's administration, so he should know that Clinton's two solid victories never gave him a mandate to do anything, according to Republicans and the mainstream media. It's true that Bill's victories were in three-way races involving Ross Perot -- but Barack Obama won convincingly twice in two-man races and his mandate was never acknowledged by the GOP, not even the first time, when big Democratic majorities were elected with him in both houses of Congress.

... Mrs. Clinton’s dogged pursuit of Republican votes has especially rankled progressives....

“Secretary Clinton’s decision to aggressively court Mitt Romney’s base has her looking more and more like Mitt Romney every day,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, a former N.A.A.C.P. president who initially supported Mr. Sanders. “That’s not a good thing.”

I do wonder what this says about her priorities as president. However, I know that she seems to have been right about the number of votes she might pick up by pursuing this strategy -- look at her massive poll lead in the suburbs of Philadelphia, for instance. She's hunting where the ducks are -- it seems quite likely that there are more persuadable right-centrist voters than there are disaffected Bernieites.

But it seems silly to argue that Clinton would have been one kind of president if she'd run one kind of race and another kind if she'd run a different race. She's going to be who she's going to be -- we know she's a person who's inclined to reach across the aisle, yet we also know that she continues to campaign on progressive ideas. As president, she's going to be a mix of centrist and progressive, and we have to influence the mix.

Reich worries that running against Trump the crazy man doesn't position Clinton well ("temperament doesn’t give you a mandate to do anything"). Concern-troll Republicans agree:

Even if Mrs. Clinton wins big, Republicans opposed to Mr. Trump’s rise may argue that Americans were not voting for her policy proposals.

Some are not waiting.

“Clinton is not likely to emerge with a legislative mandate,” said Rick Tyler, a former top aide to Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential run. “She will have to start from zero in terms of selling all her policy proposals. They will not have been sold through this process.”

Mr. Tyler, who believes the 2016 election has effectively been decided, predicted a common refrain from Republican legislators next year: “We didn’t see that the people voted for that; we see that the people voted against Donald Trump.”

But if Republicans don't have this excuse for blocking all her initiatives, they'll found some other excuse. They'll say they held the House and Senate, or held the House and nearly held the Senate, therefore Americans voted for divided government, and want them to be a check on her radical socialist big-government policies. Or they'll just do what they did in 2009 and 2010: they'll block everything just because they can, and offer no explanation, or say, as they said with Obama, that Clinton campaigned as a healer and then decided to govern as an ideologue, even if this is blatantly contrary to the evidence.

Republicans faced with a Democratic president invariably find a reason to be the Party of No. It's always something.

So this is the best Democrats can do:

Some Clinton allies have argued that the most pressing goal should be to run up the largest possible margin of victory, which could enable the party to seize down-ballot seats that might be unwinnable in an ordinary year....

“Republicans in Congress won’t grant as easily after the election that we won a huge mandate on progressive issues, but thanks to Donald Trump, we might have more progressives and majorities in Congress,” [Adam] Green [a founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee] said. “I’d rather have a Republican minority in denial about what just happened than a Republican majority standing in the way.”

Republicans will never, ever grant that Clinton has a mandate. If the candidate had been Sanders and he'd won in a blowout with an unabashedly ideological, issue-oriented campaign, they wouldn't have granted that he had a mandate. They just don't do that. No election outcome will prevent them from standing athwart history yelling "Stop."

So there just have to be fewer of them in Congress. Reducing the GOP head count in D.C. won't solve all the Democrats' problems. But it's a start.

A final note: Republicans will block Clinton's initiatives even if she tries to govern as a centrist. So don't worry that she might pursue a "grand bargain" that guts Social Security and Medicare -- as long as she doesn't give Republicans 100% of what they want, they'll fight her just to fight her. The same with wars -- if she turns hawkish, Republicans will turn dovish, just to be be oppositional. She'll learn by painful experience, just like Obama.

Crossposted from No More Mr. Nice Blog

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