Monday, June 20, 2016

Hillary's Donor Dilemma


According to a piece in Politico, Wall Street is concerned that Hillary Clinton might pick Elizabeth Warren as her running mate. How concerned? If Warren gets the nod, the majority of Clinton's big donors would abandon her. And in an election that could well see as much as a billion dollars spent, such a defection of capital could spell the difference between winning or losing.

It also puts Clinton in the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, choosing Warren would energize the base and thwart any lingering Bernie burn out. On the other hand, Clinton's pivot to the center will be crucial to winning over moderates. It also makes her a more attractive choice for that part of the business community that normally would vote Republican, but which might find Clinton the less risky choice. There's no doubt Warren would chase away the latter and could potentially worry the former.

It comes down to this: which constituency does Clinton need more? The conventional wisdom is that you run to your left or right during the primary, but you run to the center in the general. The GOP's failure to grasp the second leg of that journey has been the principle reason why they've lost the last two presidential elections. Hillary's bonafides as a centrist are well established and should make her the ideal general election candidate.

But this is not your typical election year, and that's putting it mildly. This has been the year of the outsider and Clinton's problem is that she is most definitely NOT an outsider. In fact, she's the textbook definition of an insider. The campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump owe their successes to growing populist movements that are dramatically reshaping the political landscape of the country.

The concern is that what would normally work in a conventional election year - a center pivot - might backfire. The base already mistrusts Clinton; pandering to Wall Street donors would only reinforce the narrative that she is in their hip pocket. And if you think Sanders's supporters were on the fence about whether to vote for Hillary, this is the sort of thing that could push a large percentage of them right over the edge. I'm not suggesting they'd vote for Trump, but I could definitely see a lot of them staying home in November.

I confess there's no easy solution for Clinton here. It's clear she's going to need a ton of money. She can't count on Trump shooting himself in the foot forever. Sooner or later he's going to find enough financial backers. Shit, he's already got Sheldon Adelson's money. That alone should net him a cool quarter of a billion right there. And if Paul Manafort can actually set up a functioning campaign staff, this could turn into a horse race after all.

My gut tells me Clinton should screw the donors, pick Warren as her running mate and go populist. It'll help her in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania where Trump will hit her hard on trade. But the practical side of me says every penny counts and, Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, twenty seven dollar donations alone cannot adequately fund a general election campaign, not in these post Citizens United days. Like it or not, big donors and the soft money they bring are an ugly fact of life.

Knowing Clinton the way I do, I'm guessing she already knows this, which is why I suspect Warren won't be her running mate. The likely choice will be someone who thinks like her, will appeal to moderate voters and be amenable to donors. Don't be surprised if she chooses Mark Warner. He hits all the right buttons. He's almost a carbon copy of her, someone she can count on to not upstage her; he's a white male, which means he might chip away some at Trump's huge advantage in that demographic; and he's a moderate senator from a swing state, so he won't further polarize an already deeply divided electorate. He also passes the all-essential commander-in-chief test that every running mate needs to pass. And did I mention the donors will be happy? Oh, yeah, I did.

Is he boring? Who cares? Maybe boring is good. Compared to Lizzie Borden and whomever he manages to hoodwink into riding shotgun with him, it could be the dream ticket. Harriet and Ozzie up against Abbott and Costello. I like it.

More to the point the general electorate should like it, perhaps even enough to parlay into a big win this November.

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