By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers – we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals. — All Quiet on the Western Front.
If the leaks from HillaryLand are to be believed, the Clinton campaign has already pivoted to the general, and will target Trump, who they apparently are betting will be the Republican candidate, on three fronts with World War II-scale artillery barrages, followed by millions of identity politics-driven activists going “over the top,” with NGOs running the show from chateaux far behind the lines. I’ll just drop this here:
— PolitiFact (@PolitiFact) March 11, 2016
The Clintons and the Trumps in happier times. Sad! But to return to our theme–
First, I’m going to give my working theory of what victory looks like to the Democratic Establishment; that is, the outcome of what would be for them a successful campaign. Next, I’ll describe the three fronts on which their (hoped-for) anti-Trump campaign would be waged, and briefly comment on each. Finally, I’ll zero in on one of the fronts, if only to pose some questions. Obviously, this is all from my armchair at 30,000 feet, so any concrete detail will be very welcome in comments.
What Victory Looks Like to the Democratic Establishment
Here is my “theory of the case” for the Democrats and the Clinton campaign. It’s totally without evidence since, luckily for us all, I have no access whatever. I do think, however, that it’s not inconsistent with Democratic (and Clintonian) behavior or motives (insofar as we understand them). I’m putting this out here since this theory informs my writing here and elsewhere, and so I’m at grave risk of confirmation bias. So I hope that you, readers, will correct me!
(1) The Democrats (and the Clintons) don’t want to give Sanders a thing. They don’t want him personally to be part of the campaign, and they are willing to write off his supporters, in classic Democrat “they have no place to go” fashion. I would bet they’d love to prevent Sanders from being nominated from the floor (and Clinton allowed herself to be in 2008), and I don’t think they’ll want him near the platform or on the trail (unless they can lure him into a small plane. Kidding!) This is partly because the Democratic Establishment and the Sanders campaign really do not have the same goals (Clinton lied about that); neoliberalism and socialism are antithetical, even a milk-and-water democratic socialism that amounts to bringing American public policy up to first world standards on health care, higher education, and wages. More importantly, the Sanders small donor-driven funding model disrupts the Democratic Establishment’s Citizens United-style funding model: It’s clearly no longer necessary to suck up to major corporations and squillionaires if you have the right message. In other words, the Sanders model could put the Clinton’s (and the Democratic Establishment) out of the influence-peddling business. This must terrify them, which is why they never mention it. As a corollary:
(2) The Democrats (and the Clintons) would rather appeal to “moderate Republicans” than Sanders voters. This is sensible realpolitik if the number of moderate Republicans who would vote for Clinton is larger than the number of Sanders supporters who would sit this one out or vote Green. Of course, the “moderate Republicans” isn’t one of those nasty working class types; why, many of them are just as credentialled as we are! (Note that the neocons are already making noises that they’ll vote for Clinton — from Trotsky to Bush to Clinton; what a journey! — and one sees and hears anecdotal evidence from ordinary Republicans of the same. (I don’t know how this would work out at the precinct level, because I can’t see any from my armchair, but I bet the Democrats would capture a lot more suburbs with this strategy, and also open up a new vein of campaign contributions.
(3) Victory for the Democrat Establishment means the left is screwed (again) and the Republicans are split (for the first time since 1964), which, when you think about it, is a DLC-style wet dream. (I don’t know if this would translate into a 1964-style landslide or not. Somehow, I doubt it. First, a campaign as vicious as this one will be would tend to depress turnout; Goldwater, after all, never had a real counter to LBJ’s daisy ad or anything else. Second, and related, I don’t see how a candidate with Clinton’s trustworthiness numbers earns a landslide, even against a crazypants opponent. (You peruse the menu at the “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” café. In Column A you have a bowl of steaming crap. In Column B you have a steaming bowl that you can’t trust not to be crap. You have no voice to change the menu. Do you exit, or do you hold your nose and make a choice? Will the restaurant be crowded?)
War on Three Fronts
The three fronts I see in the papers are Merrick Garland, the Clinton Campaign proper, and Anti-Trump front organizations. (Note that none of the sources I’m about to quote categorize matters this way; I don’t have any access, so all I can do is go with what I see.)
From the Times, “Obama Mobilizes Campaign Veterans to Push for Court Nominee”:
Using a tactic straight out of the president’s 2012 campaign playbook, a new group [“the Constitutional Responsibility Project”] formed by those aides to fight for Judge Merrick B. Garland’s confirmation hosted Mr. Obama on Thursday on a “strategy call” for thousands of supporters and activists. …
Established in recent weeks as a nonprofit organization, the group will solicit donations, develop advertising, coordinate messaging, help manage operatives in the field, respond to attacks on Judge Garland and collect opposition research on Republican opponents.
It is essentially a miniature version of Obama for America.
Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? The Democrats cut OFA of at the knees in 2009, virutally the instant Obama is elected, and don’t use it to bring pressure to bear on the bailouts, single payer, or any policy issue whatever. Then, in 2016, they reconstitute it, for the purpose of filling a judgeship. (The parallel between the Democrat’s refusal to use the nuclear option on the filibuster in 2009, when it might have made a difference on policy, and Reid’s later use of it, in 2013, to fill judgeships, is exact.)
Here are the advantages of opening this front for Democrats in 2016 (taking “Jobs for the Boys” as a given):
(1) Merrick Garland is a moderate Republican judge, so he appeals to “moderate” Republicans. That helps with Democratic branding.
(2) “Constitutional Responsibility” seems focus-grouped to appeal to “moderate” Republicans as well; after all, the case for not giving Garland a hearing and a vote pretty much boils down to “because we can,” and if there are any Republicans out there who still find governance important, they must be feeling some pangs of conscience.
(3) The project creates a second, parallel “horse-race” narrative immediately, which sucks yet more oxygen away from the Sanders campaign (to the extent the press is willing to give him any oxygen at all).
(4) The project creates a second, parallel site for the exercise of activist energy, which also sucks energy away from the Sanders campaign.
So far as I know, spinning up a project like this at the close of an administration is unprecedented, a word I’m going to be using a lot in what follows.
The Clinton Campaign
(Gaius Publius has a good round-up of the leaks from Hillaryland here; the links that follow are taken from it). HillaryLand being HillaryLand, the Trump Front will be a ginormous hairball of unprecedented dimensions, but here’s what they’re warning about now.
First, the tone — and I know this will surprise you — will get Cersei Lannister-nasty. From Buzzfeed:
If Hillary Clinton manages to beat Bernie Sanders, the early primaries have already revealed that there’s only one strategy for the general election against a Republican, be it Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz: Scorch the earth.
There was a scenario, which looks more like a fantasy, in which Clinton was a movement. Women in their twenties, thirties, and forties would rally to her the way black Americans rallied to Obama; she would run on her own mantle of change.
In reality, nobody is that excited about Hillary Clinton, and young voters, women and men — the foot soldiers of any Democratic Party movement — aren’t coming around. She lost a resounding 82% of voters under 30 in Nevada. Her campaign now rests on the hope that voters of color like her well enough, if nowhere near as much as they like Obama. And that means that when she faces a Republican, she will have to destroy him — something the people who will be doing the destroying acknowledged when I asked them earlier this month.
“The slogan is ‘Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid,'” said Paul Begala, who is an adviser to the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA.
This too may be unprecedented. I’m trying to think of a campaign where both parties ran Daisy/Willie Horton/Swiftboat/3:00AM campaign ads all the time, and can’t bring one to mind.
Second, the oppo. It seems that the Clinton campaign has been amassing it, but holding off, in order to sandbag Trump with it in the general. From the Wall Street Journal:
A pair of super PACs loyal to Mrs. Clinton have already accumulated a vast trove of research on Mr. Trump’s business dealings. Using financial experts, Correct the Record and American Bridge have dug into his business career and pored over his personal-disclosure forms looking for material to exploit in a general election.
he groups haven’t released any of this research as the GOP primaries have unfolded. They didn’t want to assist Mr. Trump’s GOP rivals, whom they believed would give Mrs. Clinton a tougher challenge in November, according to a person familiar with their work. Now, they will look for an opportune time to try to put Mr. Trump on the defensive.
Of course, two campaigns can play at that game. Master of the Dark Arts Roger Stone — whose recent rift with Trump was entirely too visible to be anything other than cover, and who makes Mike Murphy look like a choirboy — just piped up on NPR:
[Stone] is also a cheerful advocate of scorched-earth politics, and that is just what he proposes as a strategy for Trump, if he’s nominated.
“While [Clinton’s] unfavorables are only in the 50s, that’s largely because Bernie Sanders has not attacked her at the point of most vulnerability,” Stone said. …
Stone said Trump could attack Clinton’s “tenure as secretary of state,” as well as “her husband’s sexual history” and what Stone called her “abuse of women.” The latter phrase is how Stone describes the criticism of women who said they had had sexual relations with former President Clinton….
Is Stone saying that Trump’s hope would be to tear down Hillary Clinton?
“That’s one way to capsulize it,” Stone said. “This will be a slugfest.”
Stone is a master of the peccadillo — he initiated the train of events that brought Eliot Spitzer down — and no doubt of the peccadilla as well. This too, is unprecedented: I can’t recall two campaigns using scorched earth tactics simultaneously and successfully, Generally, somebody takes the high road.
Third, Clinton will — unprecendently — have two Presidents campaigning for her. The Times again:
To fight Mr. Trump’s ability to sway the news cycle, Mr. Clinton would not hold back on the stump, and President Obama has told allies he would gleefully portray Mr. Trump as incapable of handling the duties of the Oval Office.
And, of course, identity politics (or, more correctly, clientelism):
The billionaire George Soros and other liberal donors will bankroll a new $15 million campaign to mobilize Latinos and other immigrants this fall, hoping to channel outrage at the political rhetoric of Donald J. Trump and other Republicans into a surge of votes for Democratic candidates in November.
The outreach, which will be coordinated through a new “super PAC” called Immigrant Voters Win PAC, will be more explicitly political and partisan than past efforts, the strategists said: The goal was to not only turn out committed Latinos already voting Democratic but also find and persuade immigrant swing voters. Ultimately, organizers hope to get at least 400,000 new Democratic voters to the polls in November.
Nothing unprecedented about about a last-minute voter registration drive for Democrats at all. You’d think they’d make party-building a year-round priority, but n-o-o-o-o-o.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using these tactics on this front for Democrats in 2016 (taking “Jobs for the Boys” as a given):
(1) Presumably, “moderate” Republicans have no issues with immigration, any more than Democrats of that class do. They don’t see Hispanics as competing with them for resources; the Hispanics are resources (human ones).
(2) Presumably, each campaign already knows the worst about its own candidate (on the general principle of don’t lie to your lawyer) and figures it can handle the pass and fell incensèd points of mighty oppo research. Will whatever is dug up about Trump scare the “moderate” Republicans into Clinton’s camp? Quite possibly, especially if his (newly disclosed) business practices turn out to be criminal or fraudulent; unlike his base, they won’t see that as beating the system. Will whatever is dug up about Clinton scare the “moderate” Republicans back to Trump? Probably nothing about Bill, though who knows. But I’m not a believer that everything about Hillary is already “out there.” She’d have no reason to hide half the mail on her private server if that were true.
Anti-Trump Front Organizations (“protests”)
Lots of walking around money here! The Wall Street Journal:
A coalition of 22 liberal groups—including some that have endorsed Mrs. Clinton and others that back her Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders—have united behind a campaign to stop Mr. Trump.
Among their plans: anti-Trump demonstrations, possibly including protests at the Republican National Convention this summer in Cleveland, and marches in major cities.
A senior Democrat who has spoken with Clinton campaign officials and others in the party in recent days said the multi-pronged strategy under review includes enlisting the Muslim, Hispanic and gay communities in an effort to paint Mr. Trump as a divisive force in American politics.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using these tactics on this front for Democrats in 2016:
(1) Decapitating any effective Sanders organizers who participate and turning them into Democrats.
(2) Getting Trump’s enforcers to over-react to protests and — for example — beat up a nun, or an old lady, or (best of all) a female Hispanic real estate agent. General revulsion by the “moderate” Republicans and the Sanders voters (as a bonus).
(3) Reinforce the identity politics model.
(4) Frankly, I’m not sure Brooklyn is going to be able to manage this successfully. 22 organizations seems awfully unwieldy, and organizing and protesting is not at all the same as advancing, or GOTV. And HillaryLand is not notably effective at co-operating with entities outside HillaryLand.
About those Protests…
I’m reserving judgment on the anti-Trump demonstrations, although if we have a long, hot summer, they could end up being very important. The difficult is that demonstrations and marches, if they’re to be spontaneous enough to look real — and I can’t imagine they could be organized by Brooklyn and not look fake — have no, as it were, immune system. As we learned from Occupy, they’re easy to infiltrate, whether by Black Bloc types, or cops, or trolls from another campaign. It’s also important, if you hope/expect/plan to have any sort of telegenic event, to have it recorded (which is why streamers are so important). It’s also clear that “telegenic” means violent; the press has been treating more or less routine pushing and shoving (and, granted, a sucker punch) so openly as “ZOMG!!!! Violence!!!!” that it’s clear what narrative they expect to be able to construct. (The contrast between that “violence” and black people routinely getting whacked by cops couldn’t be more clear; the first is a story; the second is not.)
Again, I just don’t see how Brooklyn controls this. I think the key thing to watch for will be tactics (new, or well-worn) and faces (“We don’t want nobody nobody sent”).
No plan survives contact with the enemy. The future lies ahead!
 And of course, gas. OK, so you make up the jokes!
 From Yes, Minister!. The sound seems a little off, I’m afraid:
An antidote to ZDT, perhaps….
 It may be that Clinton will have to work through proxies, because Trump punches back. Wall Street Journal:
Taking aim at Mr. Trump’s statements about women poses risks, as Mrs. Clinton discovered when she faulted his use of a vulgar Yiddish term in December. Referring to his remark that she got “schlonged” by Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries, Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Trump has “a penchant for sexism.” Mr. Trump quickly invoked former President Bill Clinton’s history with women, including his impeachment for allegedly lying about his affair with a White House intern. That retort ended the back-and-forth.
And following that exchange, the Clinton campaign is going to keep their candidate wrapped up in tissue paper, as usual:
“I think that she has to be above it all,” said Alan Patricof, a Clinton fundraiser. “To me, running against a bully, an egotist, a screamer, is a very difficult challenge, because you can’t deal with a person like this in a normal fashion.”
The Democratic front-runner’s aides are planning to keep her out of a war of insults, concluding that independent voters will recoil at Mr. Trump’s heated rhetoric and reward her discretion.
Good luck with that.