Wednesday, July 06, 2016

My Advice to Hillary Clinton

Yesterday, I decided to give some advice to Donald Trump, twisting a little bit my political leanings and seeing if I could give out advice to a man I find repugnant (it's always good to stretch your political strategy muscle).  Today, though, I wanted to do something a bit more natural-go over the same topics with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Whom should she pick as a running mate, whom should she select for the DNC speaking slots, and what changes/continuations should she make as we shift into the general election and she tries to pick up voters who until now have largely been uninterested in the election.  Let's take a look, shall we?

DNC: I'm going to get into the vice presidential nominees in a second, but it's worth noting that the DNC also is going to be happening, and while the RNC is struggling to come up with enough primetime speakers, instead potentially relying upon major figures in the world of athletics, the DNC has the opposite problem where there may, in fact, be too many speakers.  With rock stars within the party like Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, their daughter Chelsea, Clinton's unnamed runningmate, President Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the eventual keynote speaker, there's not a lot of room for additional speakers to fire up the base or gain some major primetime coverage.  This is, admittedly, a good problem to have-Clinton wants to have people tune in and won't have the "car crash effect" that will come with an inevitable Trump convention.  However, I do want to make sure that they are making room for younger leaders in the party.  The keynote speaker should surely be one of those rising stars: Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin, or Catherine Cortez Masto seem the most likely to be amongst the selections, but I'd like to see a couple of these rising stars on the stage to show the next generation of Democratic leaders.  I think it wouldn't be the worst idea to put Sen. Al Franken, who will be able to rile up the base against Trump with his sharp rhetorical skills, in the primetime lineup, or to pick some rising challengers in the party like Deborah Ross, Tammy Duckworth, or Jason Kander to go on stage to help them in their fundraising and to highlight the importance of down-ballot races.  And considering that both President Bush's have declined to speak or even endorse Donald Trump, it'd be a strong sign of unity to have Jimmy Carter (whether speaking or having a clip) speak to the DNC since Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will both be there, showing all three Democratic presidents are behind Clinton.  Finally, a word of caution: having Republicans speak at the DNC is never a good idea because promoting someone who is espousing splitting the ticket isn't really the point there, so don't pull a page out of the Zell Miller/Joe Lieberman playbook and have a Republican who has endorsed Hillary Clinton get a primetime slot, or really any airtime other than perhaps a taped bit.

Vice President: Like Donald Trump, the list of potential VP candidates seems to ebb and tide in terms of number, but it's likely at about seven: Tim Kaine, Julian Castro, Xavier Becerra, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Tom Perez, and Sherrod Brown are probably the list.  From that list, there's a lot to offer Clinton, and I think the smartest decision is for her to not only wait a while, but wait until after the RNC to figure out the tenure of the race and Trump's speeches.  If she feels like there could be a turning of the tide and she needs to nail down liberals, go with Elizabeth Warren, while if she feels that a Latino running-mate or a younger running-mate is critical, Julian Castro would be the best.  For months, in fact, I've espoused Castro but as I feel that the Republicans will probably be in a worse position after the RNC (or even neutral to what they are now, which is worse as the RNC, along with Trump's runningmate announcement and the four debates are really the only times in the election where there's a clear moment where the momentum can change, so not getting a plus is a big deal when you're behind), I think selecting a safe pick is for the best, and Castro's resume is too thin and he's too untested electorally to get such a spot.  Instead, I have warmed really heartily to the idea of Tim Kaine.  He knows Congress so he can help with the Vice Presidential aspect of wheeling-and-dealing, his governor is a Democrat so the left will hold his seat as Senate math is crucial this year, he's a former governor/mayor so he has executive experience which is a trait the media loves to espouse, he's a DNC Chair so he knows where the money is and who hasn't given up the dough, he speaks Spanish fluently (which might not mean much, but I suspect a speech given by the VP nominee in fluent Spanish in a place like Miami or Phoenix might carry more weight against Donald Trump), and he's from a critical, pivotal swing state that Clinton must win (like Trump with Ohio, Virginia is arguably the most important puzzle piece on the board for Clinton in terms of clinching 270).  All-in-all, he reminds me a bit of the last couple of successful vice presidential nominees: not particularly flashy, but doesn't do any harm and won't shift the ship off-course.

Presidential Cabinet: Hillary Clinton has even less of a reason to release her potential cabinet than Trump, mostly because she wants to see where all of the cards are and has a much better shot at winning, so why pay out favors or box your options in early if it's not going to do any good (plus, I'm still not sure if it's legal to do this)?  That said, I do like the idea of Clinton pushing hard for a 50/50 split in her cabinet between men and women, similar to what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did last year with his victory.  This would be an extraordinary moment, as women have never reached higher than 25% of the cabinet at a specific time (and that would be currently, with Loretta Lynch, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Sally Jewell, and Penny Pritzker all serving at once in the Obama administration).  I also would like to see a harder push toward women being appointed to some of the final three positions that have not been held by women; Treasury, Defense, and Veterans Affairs are the only positions left with that glass ceiling, and names like Lael Brainard, Michelle Fluornoy, and Tulsi Gabbard, respectively, would all be strong options, and in the case of the last one a nice bone to throw to the Bernie Sanders campaign.  It'd also be fascinating to see the first female Chief of Staff, which seems likely considering the prominent roles that Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, Jennifer Palmieri and Amanda Renteria all play in Clinton's campaign-any one of them could potentially take on the position of Chief of Staff to a new POTUS.

The Campaign: Clinton is in a weird position right now.  The ultimate goal, the only true goal, of her campaign is 270 electoral votes.  If the election were held today, she'd have them.  That's all Hillary Clinton's operation, at the end of the day, should care about, and so part of her role in the coming months is going to be to focus upon simply holding states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida, as that will ensure she wins the election in November.

But Clinton also has three other things in mind when it comes to November, and they will require her to get outside of that box of "just focus on 270": her first 100 days, her mandate, and a second term.  All of these are critically important to a President Clinton, even if Candidate Clinton just needs to hit 270 electoral votes.  Clinton is in a position of luxury only seen once in the past sixteen years (Barack Obama in 2008) where she can afford to look at the rest of the map.  Make no mistake here-there's a big difference from a public opinion perspective between Clinton getting, say, 350 electoral votes compared to 270, even if the outcome is ultimately the same.  Therefore, finding new states like Arizona, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nebraska-2, all places where Barack Obama lost in 2012, is going to help her immensely in terms of gaining a mandate, and therefore getting the cabinet she wants, having a bigger seat at the negotiations table, and squashing any conversation from Donald Trump and his supporters about the system being "rigged."

However, a mandate will only get her so far, as we saw with President Obama who won two decisive electoral victories, but the Republicans weren't having any of it, and so if Hillary Clinton wants her first 100 days to matter, she will need to focus on getting Democrats elected down-ballot, particularly in the Senate and House.  It's lucky for her that every swing state has a Senate election up this year save Virginia (which, conveniently, is the only swing state that has two Democratic senators already) and in nearly all of those cases the incumbent is a Republican.  Clinton should coordinate in tandem with the campaigns of people like Deborah Ross, Patrick Murphy, Ted Strickland, and Ann Kirkpatrick, all of whom will probably be outspent by the GOP but could be carried by her coattails, and it will pay huge rewards, particularly in the first few weeks when she gets a Supreme Court nomination as it seems unlikely that Merrick Garland at this point will be confirmed.  Additionally, while the House may not be in play (it'd take a lead bigger than the one Clinton currently has), every seat she can gain is one that Paul Ryan will not have to utilize in terms of negotiations.  We've seen how many bills Ryan and John Boehner have needed Democratic support for in the past few years-being in a position where they have a much slimmer majority will put intense pressure on him to have to either ruin the Republican Party's image further by blocking popular bills or give in to Democratic demands.  Plus, if you don't play you can't win, and the House could theoretically turn if everything goes well for Clinton.

Finally, that first 100 days leads to the most important thing for Clinton after winning 270 votes: reelection.  Hillary Clinton is not dumb, and sees the parallels between herself and former President George HW Bush. They both will have won as wonkish insiders who coasted off of a popular incumbent who used to be their boss and a weak opponent who couldn't seal the deal. No party has held the White House for sixteen years since the 1940's, so statistically Clinton has a mountain to climb to win reelection, which will be critical to her legacy (and the Clintons LOVE legacy). Her best shot at winning reelection is getting popular bills on infrastructure, gun control, and women's rights through before the midterms, where she'll surely lose her power in the House and probably her majority in the Senate. In order to do this she has to have as many congressional allies as she can muster, which means even if it's not for her, investing in safe blue states like California and New York, or red states that look tough like Utah or Texas, may be in the cards for she and the DNC.

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