Are Dems Falling in Love, or Falling in Line with Hillary?

5 Comments | Category: General

Earlier this year my American Presidency students learned about political advisor Sidney Blumenthal’s concept of “the permanent campaign,” which was also the title of his 1980 book. The idea is that the basic fundamentals which drive a campaign don’t subside once the election has passed. The next campaign begins almost immediately after the winner is declared while things like governing and policy formation take a back seat.

I distinctly remember turning on cable news several hours after Barack Obama had defeated Mitt Romney, only to hear a conversation about how the implications of the previous day’s election will impact the 2016 race. Politico recently published a story about which high-level staffers may end up working for one of the 2016 campaigns. Pollsters are already gauging the early preferences of voters. Senator Rand Paul and Governor Chris Christie—both potential 2016 candidates—just exchanged barbs over foreign policy and pork barrel spending.

Just seven months into the current four year term and we are already off to the races. Political Scientist Hugh Heclo wrote that “The permanent campaign is not the way Americans do politics, but the way politics is done to them.” He has a point.

The permanent campaign industrial complex strongly suggests that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016 and is the frontrunner for the presidency. A July McClatchy-Marist poll found that 63% of Democrats favor Clinton while her closest rival—Joe Biden—was fifty points behind. Monmouth University ran a series of trial heats in July showing Clinton topping Chris Christie 43 to 39, Marco Rubio 47 to 36, and Jeb Bush 47 to 37. She also led Tea Party doyen Rafael “Ted” Cruz 48 to 32.

The permanent campaign thrives as the media establishment focuses on it, the party operatives and pundits offer endless commentary, possible candidates get into the fray because they don’t want to miss free press hits, the pollsters jump in to weigh the views of the electorate, and then POW! The next thing you know, you and I are talking about it as well.

Truthfully, predicting in August 2013 what will happen in November 2016 sounds as crazy as asking who is going to win the World Series four years from now (my money is on the Red Sox). There is one 2016 question that is fair game for the moment: why are the Democrats rushing to coronate Hillary Clinton rather than carefully evaluating all of the options?

The conventional wisdom about presidential races suggests that Democratic voters historically prefer somewhat messy, highly contested primaries while Republicans like to sort out the nomination business quickly. As Bill Clinton once said, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” Although I have never been enamored with Hillary as a legislator or a candidate, there appears to be nothing deceptive or manufactured about the legitimacy of Hillary’s appeal among Democrats. Are the rank and file of the party are falling in love or falling in line?

Aside from basic center-left policy congruence between Clinton and the Democratic electorate, here are a few reasons why the rank and file are jumping on Hillary’s bandwagon so early in the process.

Fear Factor

Democrats are certainly frightened of the possibility of losing the presidency in 2016. This could result in Republicans gaining control of the White House, the U.S. House, and possibly the Senate. As a result, they are backing the horse perceived to be most capable of winning the race and thus preventing a unified GOP government. The polling cited earlier confirms this.

Making History

Some Democrats may be jumping on board early because they see an authentic chance to make history for their party. They were the first major party to elect a Westerner to the White House with Andrew Jackson and the first to elect a Southerner—Lyndon Johnson—to the presidency since the Civil War. They were the first major party to nominate a bona fide populist with William Jennings Bryan in 1896, the first to nominate a Catholic with Al Smith in 1928, and the first to elect a Catholic in 1960 with Jack Kennedy. They were the first major party to nominate a woman for Vice President with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, the first to nominate a candidate of Greek heritage in 1988 with Michael Dukakis, and the first major party to nominate and elect a minority as president in 2008. Nominating and electing the first female candidate would undoubtedly be a historic marker for the party, and the rank and file know it.

Making Amends

There is clearly some sense of loyalty to Hillary at this point since many in the party’s base feel some sympathy for displacing her in 2008 for a young upstart named Obama. Those who remained loyal to Clinton during the rough and tumble 2008 contest want another shot. Those who backed Obama over her seem anxious to say that they would have supported her if Obama hadn’t drawn them away.

Hillary’s enthusiastic support among base Democrats appears wide and deep. Perhaps Democrats are falling for her because they think she is electable, she can make history, they still have a strong attachment to her, because there is nobody else to carry the banner, or maybe they really do love her. Perhaps it is because they still love Bill and believe she represents a link to the good old days of the booming nineties.

The effects of the permanent campaign are materializing in run up to 2016. It is yet to be seen if Clinton’s seemingly impenetrable lead among Democrats will endure since another candidate could catch fire as Obama did in 2008. There is also the remote possibility that Hillary will elect not to run, although it is difficult to imagine her skipping a race that appears to be hers to lose. Either way, the race is on.

Category: General

    5 Comments so far


  1. Joe says:

    There should be a law against campaigning until two months before the election. It’s turned into a circus.

  2. Tony West says:

    All solid points. A good summary.

    It turns out that in our modern entertainment-oriented infosphere, watching races is more fun than debating issues. To turn politics into a kind of spectator sport helps it fit in with ordinary folks. It’s like watching the Eagles play the Cowboys. There are only 2 possible outcomes & fans know in advance which emotion to feel either way. In addition, *nothing is expected* of the spectator. And after the game is over – you’re only out the price of a ticket. It doesn’t really matter to your functional life how the game came out. Whee!

    When it comes to policy choices, on the other hand, almost nothing boils down to a simple either-or outcome. There are a million branching possibilities. Worse yet – the game demands your effortful choice & affects your everyday life. Ugh! Too much like work.

  3. Ken Cosgrove says:

    Think about CNN’s problem: you have two competitors that are more emotively branded than are you, you have 24 hours a day to fill and the corporate owner wants to make a profit. What sells ? This and, given the explosion of new infotainment producers you’re hardly the only outfit with the incentive for cheap, entertaining material. Only so many babies will fall down the well or be kidnapped to a foreign country by a disgruntled parent but Presidential campaigns are a sure thing.

  4. Dick Miller says:

    Based on Obama’s success, you are correct in saying it is too early to tell. Nathan, you forgot to factor in the additional advantage she has of being Secretary of State. With all the turmoil overseas, this experience is bound to count for more in 2016.

  5. Gabi says:

    Nate– great post, and well timed, too. The road to 2016 seems to be paving itself far too early, and, in agreement with you, I feel that it diverts focus from the issues. Americans are disinterested in engaging with DC inbetween Presidential elections (though, it’s not like voter turnout is compelling), and this pre-game seems to be an effort to captivate that (likely dwindling) audience.

    On Hilary and speaking for myself, she is my top D pick for 2016 because she was my top D pick in 2008. The party was so split and passionate about her AND Obama, that I think the energy will transfer. We’ll see. I’m not Chris Matthews, and I’m not going to try and predict the D nominee!

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