By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Readers, I’m sorry for the premature publication. As ever with Clinton, when I put on the yellow waders, I end up wading deeper and longer than I planned. –lambert
Is the Clinton campaign “desperate,” as Bernie Sanders suggests in his recent Washington Post interview? Even if New York Times columnist Charles blow uses the same word, “desperate” could be a little harsh; after all, Sanders is no more a telepath than I am. However, it does to me that the Clinton campaign is behaving like they’re worried, has every reason to be worried, and is reacting badly to the stress of being challenged. The easiest path to the Presidency for Clinton would have been to land a knockout punch in the first round, and that’s what they expected to do; that’s why they didn’t build campaign insfrastructure for a championship. Plan A failed, and like a boxer who’s lost control of the match, the Clinton campaign flails, seeking to land a blow by striking at random, without discipline, reverting to a natural tendency to punch, rather than box (we’ll see how in the next sections). First, I’ll look at the current status of caucuses and primaries. Next, I’ll look at five areas where the Clinton campaign is flailing:
- Surrogate Eruptions
- Wall Street
- Red-Baiting the Base
- Half-a-Loaf-ist Messaging
And finally I’ll talk a little about Clinton’s glass jaw.
The Caucuses and Primaries
Let’s run briefly through the campaign Calendar through Super Tuesday.
Iowa Caucus. Real Clear Politics, which averages four Iowa polls, has Clinton up by 7.2, with Sanders closing to within less than one point on January 12, and then falling back. Which seems secure, except it isn’t. To repeat (from Links) Iowa coverage from In These Times:
The polls are irrelevant at this point,’ says [Dave Nagle, a Waterloo-based lawyer who served as Democratic state chair in the early 1980s and then represented Iowa’s third district in Congress for three terms], who doesn’t endorse candidates. ‘You cannot, unless you’re here, realize what the last week of the caucus is like—the volatility, the pressure’ and the ‘organized pandemonium’ as the campaigns mobilize their bases and undecided voters settle. ‘When that last 20 percent decides to move, it can be mind-boggling,’ Nagle says.”
Clinton may well win Iowa; Nate Silver puts her chances at 69%. But it certainly wasn’t supposed to be this close!
New Hampshire Primary. RCP, this time averages five polls, has Sanders up by 12.8, with Clinton closing to within 5 on January 7, and falling back. To be fair, Vermont, which Sanders represents, is New Hampshire’s neighbor. However, New Hampshire is also the state with “Live Free or Die” on its license plates, and it’s famously anti-tax, anti-big gummint. So if New Hampshire goes for Sanders, that says nothing but good about Sanders’ character. With Clinton, by contrast:
Put more simply, some voters do not like her or do not consider her honest. In a CNN/WMUR poll last week of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire, 55 percent called Mrs. Clinton the least honest candidate in the party’s field, compared with 46 percent in December.
Ouch. The more New Hampshire voters came to know Clinton, the less they trusted her. That’s not good news for the Clinton campaign.
South Carolina Primary. Corey Robin writes that Clinton’s Firewall in South Carolina is Melting Away… I don’t think firewalls melt, but this is what the CBS poll shows: Black voters moving from 78/19/2/1 Clinton/Sanders/O’Malley/Undecided to 55/18/2/26 (!). That doesn’t mean that Clinton has lost those newly undecided votes, but they may be Sanders’ to win. Again, just as in Iowa, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Super Tuesday Primaries. A sure sign that the Clinton campaign is worried about what comes after Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (which only weeks ago was supposed to be the firewall) is that Bill Clinton is worried. Politico:
Bill Clinton is getting nervous.
With polls showing Bernie Sanders ahead in New Hampshire and barely behind, if at all, in Iowa, the former president is urging his wife to start looking toward the delegate-rich March primaries — a shift for an organizing strategy that’s been laser-focused on the early states.
Bill Clinton, according to a source with firsthand knowledge of the situation, has been phoning campaign manager Robby Mook almost daily to express concerns about the campaign’s organization in the March voting states, which includes delegate bonanzas in Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Texas.
Unfortunately, the Clinton campaign can’t deliver a knockout punch on Super Tuesday, either. That’s because Sanders has implemented an innovative fundraising model that will enable him to go as many rounds as Clinton can. From an interview with Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver on Vermont Public Radio:
Weaver said the campaign has revolutionized presidential fundraising efforts by receiving more than 2.5 million contributions in the past six months. That’s an all-time record for any presidential candidate.
Weaver notes that the campaign had hoped to raise roughly $35 million before Feb. 1. If things continue as they have, it will likely bring in double that amount.
Weaver says the average contribution is about $30 and that means the campaign can ask many donors to contribute again.
“Importantly, only a small fraction of those contributors are maxed out,” Weaver explains. “Meaning they can continue to sustain this campaign as we go all the way to the convention.
Now, I don’t know what proportion of Clinton’s donors are maxed out (and “dark money” and contributions from influence peddling at the Clinton Foundation should help make up the numbers). Nevertheless, it looks like Weaver’s right. (We might also consider that Mike “Mayor for Life” Bloomberg is going to wait until March to make up his mind whether to run. If that keeps any big donors who care about gun control (or soda (or militarized policing)) on the sidelines, that might hurt Clinton.)
Hippie Punching. As we shall see, and in an all-too-human way (“they are who we thought they were”), the Clinton campaign is handling the stress by reverting to the time-honored Democratic establishment tactic of “hippie-punching” (a.k.a. “kicking the left”) described memorably by old-school blogger Susie Madrak in 2010, as reported by Greg Sargent:
Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of “hippie punching”
But hovering over the call was the obvious disconnect between this plea for help and statements like those of Robert Gibbs, who recently pilloried the “professional left” for being overly critical of the White House [not to mention Rahm Emmanuel calling the left “—-ing retards.'”]
That tension burst out into the open when Madrak directly asked Axelrod: “Have you ever heard of hippie punching?” That prompted a long silence from Axelrod.
“You want us to help you, the first thing I would suggest is enough of the hippie punching,” Madrak added. “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day.”
At any rate, for Axelrod to plead with liberal bloggers for their help turning out the base, only to get accused of “hippie punching,” is an iconic moment in Campaign 2010.
And we all remember how 2010 turned out for master strategerist Axelrod, right? You’d think today’s Democratic establishment — and in particular, the Clinton campaign — would have learned. Guess not. They’re punching, not boxing; they’re flailing. I’ll go through what I see as categories of Clintonian flailing, and with the exception of the first (“1. Surrogate Eruptions”) they all involve hippie-punching. (I won’t go into exhaustive detail on cases with which NC readers are already familiar).
1. Surrogate Eruptions
First, there was campaign surrogate Chelsea Clinton. It’s breathtaking:
Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance,” she said, according to MSNBC. “I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era—before we had the Affordable Care Act—that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.
Of course, as Chelsea knows or should know, Sanders supports single payer Medicare for All, and has introduced legislation to that effect. Mother Jones drily comments:
it’s unclear how a plan that would make almost everyone eligible for coverage would strip millions of health care coverage, which is what Clinton seemed to be saying. (The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
No, they wouldn’t have. Anyhow, I notice they’ve got Chelsea doing fundraisers, in private, now, so I guess the campaign stuffed her back in her box, on policy, at least. Rather than fearmongering (“I worry”), wouldn’t it have been smarter to show how Clinton’s incremental approach would provide universal coverage? Or even show different European models that are not single payer, but cheaper than our system (they all are) and more effective (most are)? Chelsea’s just hippie punching. She’s not boxing.
Then, there was campaign surrogate and attack pup David Brock, proposing to attack Sanders on his personal health, a suicidal strategy given Clinton’s Coumadin prescription, which is no doubt why campaign manager John Podesta yanked on Brock’s choke collar to shut him up. Flailing, not boxing.
And then, there was attack pup David Brock again, smearing Sanders as a racist (and I really don’t know how else to characterize Brock’s “ it seems black lives don’t matter much to Bernie Sanders” other than as a smear, unless as the lie direct). Tellingly, this time Podesta was silent, which is all you really need to know about Podesta, and the campaign he manages. Again, punching, not boxing. If you really want to out-box Sanders, why not do on policy, say at Campaign Zero? (Here’s the policy tracking chart. It’s very wonky, so presumably Clinton should enjoy reading it. Somebody at the Sanders campaign must have, because they’ve been far more responsive than Clinton.)
2. Wall Street
A bit too strong to strong to call this a Macaca moment, but it’s certainly close; here’s Clinton slipping the punch, and dancing away, when she’s asked whether she’ll release the transcripts of paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs:
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a candidate for evidence of what they said to a sector propose to regulate; and that Clinton has refused to release the transcripts doesn’t speak well of her. Nor does laughing at the question; to lots of us, the role of the finance sector in crashing the economy and ruining so many lives is not a laughing matter. Here’s Politico summarizing what Clinton said:
But Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop. And indeed Goldman’s Tim O’Neill, who heads the bank’s asset management business, introduced Clinton by saying how courageous she was for speaking at the bank. (Brave, perhaps, but also well-compensated: Clinton’s minimum fee for paid remarks is $200,000).
Certainly, Clinton offered the money men—and, yes, they are mostly men—at Goldman’s HQ a bit of a morale boost.
That seems pretty damning. If it were better than it seems, then Clinton would certainly release the transcript to prove Politico wrong. She hasn’t. Therefore, it’s even worse.
And it keeps getting worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint). Clinton today:
Clinton also played up her anti-Wall Street credentials, saying, “I took them on when I was senator.”
“I took on the carried-interest loophole,” Clinton said, referring to a tax policy issue that has become a touchstone for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other liberals.
“I took on what was happening in the mortgage markets. I was talking about that in 2006. They know exactly where I stand,” Clinton said in apparent reference to Goldman Sachs and other big banks.
Indeed they do; see above. That said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. NC may have more to say, later, about Clinton and the “carried interest” loophole, but her claim that “I took on what was happening in the mortgage markets. I was talking about that in 2006” seems dubious.
First, in 2006 there were very few voices who even knew “what was happening in the mortgage markets”; a few hedgies, and some renegade academics. That is, after all, the theme of The Big Short. Second, if Clinton was “talking” about this, she certainly wasn’t amplifying those voices. Third, she had no incentive to “talk” about anything. In 2006, her most valued constituency, Wall Street, was as happy as a pig in clover. And her voters weren’t affected by the foreclosure crisis at that time, either; New York, unlike Florida, where the crisis hit hard, is a judicial foreclosure state. Fourth, Yves started Naked Capitalism exactly because nobody was talking about “what was happening in the mortgage markets,” let alone Clinton. Fifth, I was a strong Clinton supporter in 2008, and I remember that in 2008, she introduced her HOLC program, modeled on FDR’s, to deal with the foreclosure crisis that had, by that time, emerged. I would have expected HOLC to have been framed by Clinton’s earlier work on foreclosure, had it existed, and I can’t find any references to it. It’s very hard, of course, to prove a negative, and perhaps there is a trace of Hillary “talking” about the foreclosure crisis, but as far as anything serious, let alone legislation? In 2006? I don’t think so.
Of course, it’s a time-honored practice for one politician “to steal another politicians clothes,” but parse the words. What does “took them on” mean? What does “what was happening” mean? What does “talking about that” mean? If she were serious, there would be words like “introduced legislation.” There aren’t. Clinton’s punch is weak.
3. Red-Baiting the Base
Counterpunch lists the sad catalog of hippie-punching:
[T]he Clinton campaign’s panicky response… has been to start having surrogates go out and paint Sanders as a “red.”
They don’t actually call him a commie, but they do the next closest thing, warning that if Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination, he would then be attacked by whoever is the Republican nominee, who would “surely” call him a communist.
How, actually, does this differ from Hillary herself just calling him a commie? Well, it doesn’t. Her campaign is calling him a red.
This attempted McCarthyite hatchet job on Sanders was launched in an article in the obligingly complicit New York Times, which on Wednesday ran a one-sided hit piece headlined::”Alarmed Clinton Supporters Begin Focusing on Sanders’s Socialist Edge.”
In that article, we read the likes of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, saying of Sanders, “Here in the heartland, we like our politicians in the mainstream, and he is not — he’s a socialist. He’s entitled to his positions, and it’s a big-tent party, but as far as having him at the top of the ticket, it would be a meltdown all the way down the ballot.”
Then there ‘s Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a neoliberal Clinton supporter, who tells the Times, “The Republicans won’t touch (Sanders) because they can’t wait to run an ad with a hammer and sickle.”
The Clintons’ fingers are all over this McCarthyite attack.
For my part, if being a socialist means concrete material benefits like having single payer Medicare for All (like Canada) and free college (like Germany), well, sticks and stones, and call me a socialist. Heck, call me a Satanist! And Clinton’s problem, here, is that single payer is very popular with most Democrats, so she’s red-baiting the very voters she needs to win over. She’s also red-baiting the younger voters enmeshed in student debt, or those who can’t afford college at all. Again, Clinton is punching. But she’s not boxing.
4. Half-a-Loaf-ist Messaging
Finally the tl;dr of Clinton’s campaign is: “This is why you can’t have nice things.” (Nice things, in fact, that the rest of the civilized world already has: Medicare for All, in Canada, and free university, like Germany. Or putting the banksters in jail, as in Iceland.
Clinton’s not afraid to make the ask with Wall Street donors. But she is afraid to make the ask on policy for voters.
How do you win from a defensive crouch? You might protect your glass jaw, but you’d better have a good cut
man person in your corner. Does Clinton?
Hillary’s glass jaw is her inevitablity, exactly as in 2008. When the inevitablity is gone, what remains, and what happens next? Does she really want to go the distance? I’m sure her massive entourage does, but does she? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I admire Clinton greatly for her intelligence and persistence. But I’m not not sure she wants to do this.
. The Interview also shows that Sanders is, in his own loveable way, a brawler. I bet the Clinton campaign didn’t see that coming. For example: “As somebody who respects Secretary Clinton, it saddens me that she would go to a professional political hit man” (like David Brock). More in sorrow than in anger….
 I think the Sanders campaign has victory as a goal, has defined victory in policy (not merely candidate) terms, and has deployed new tactics (not, at least not yet, technology) in search of victory. Has the Clinton campaign done really anything other than define victory in candidate terms?
 Not a panacea, but well-deserved.
 I remember how she drove to Iowa in a van; I wish she’d criss-crossed the country like that, as in the (brilliant, late, uncovered 2008 post-caucus campaign). But she didn’t. She flew back in a plane.