I still suspect that if Democrats could find another viable candidate for 2016 they would quickly jettison Hillary Clinton.
As of now, they cannot, so, as Peggy Noonan writes this morning, Hillary will “glide” to the nomination.
In principle, Hillary should be easy to beat. Her favorability and trustworthiness ratings have been dropping in the polls. She trails several Republican candidates in swing state polls.
Her one great hope is that the Republicans will beat themselves. How so? By turning the nomination process into a free-for-all where each candidate sets out to destroy the others. It happened in 2012 and it looks like history might repeat itself.
Noonan’s analysis rings true:
Mrs. Clinton is almost certainly about to glide to her party’s nomination. There will be a few bumps. She will occasionally be pressed and challenged on various questions. There will be back and forth. But her Democratic opponents will not attack her character, her history, her financial decisions, her scandals. They will not go at her personally. She will emerge dinged but not damaged. No one will ravage the queen.
The Democratic Party keeps the debate within bounds:
The Democrats have an enforcement mechanism to keep all their candidates in line. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley know without being told that the party will kill them if they tear apart the assumed nominee. Their careers will be over if they go at her personally.
In the other corner we have the Republican field. I have in the past noted the presence of far too many vanity candidates. The risk with having vanity candidates is that you start looking like the vanity party. That is, you start looking like you do not take the presidency seriously.
And then, Noonan explains, Republicans have been known to engage in the famous circular firing squad:
The Republican primary, on the other hand, will be all hell bursting loose. The candidates will spend the next year tearing each other apart on everything and anything. Super PACs are furiously raising money, some of which will be used to take down and slam GOP opponents in negative ads and videos.
Half a dozen candidates are clustered near the top, so the fight this year will be fierce. The Republicans have no old-style enforcers—no establishment figures everyone is afraid of crossing. Republicans are by nature entrepreneurs—they’ll do a lot not to lose market share.
So Republicans this cycle will likely go after each other in a personal, rough way, bloody each other, and damage the eventual nominee, while Mrs. Clinton will glide along relatively untouched. Democrats will watch the fisticuffs, determine what line of attack worked best on the GOP nominee, and mine it deeper in the general election.
Noonan is not optimistic:
Is the GOP thinking about setting 2016 ground rules? Is it thinking about penalties—publicly warning candidates that if they go at contenders on anything but the issues they’ll face the wrath of the party? Is there any way to put teeth in such a threat?
Perhaps the Republicans are not well enough organized to enforce such discipline. Perhaps they do not believe in such discipline anyway. Many of them will declare themselves to be too principled to limit their criticism to policy.
In the end politics is about winning and governing, not about making a point. Winning requires focus and concentration. It demands that candidates not destroy each other, not weaken their nominee before the general election:
Here it should be noted that Republicans often speak of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” He didn’t mean don’t attack them. He himself tried to take out a sitting Republican president and went at Gerald Ford hammer and tongs—on the issues. It was never personal, and it had nothing to do with “oppo.” It was about great questions, not small people. That’s not only how to win, it’s how to win with meaning.
But it’s also about the general confusion over the meaning of the word “free.”
Free will does not have the same “free” as free-for-all.
And free trade does not have the same “free” as free lunch.
Free elections do not have the same “free” as free verse or free love.
Also, free and easy is not the same as free and clear.
Being free to take responsibility, Isaiah Berlin famously noted, is not the same as being free from responsibility. By extension, freedom of religion is not the same as freedom from religion.
This is advanced philosophy, via Wittgenstein, but we do need to correct that common error of believing that the different kinds of freedom are the same. If you believe that a free market is like a free-for-all you might also believe that the person who emerges victorious from a free-for-all will be in the same condition as the person who wins out in a free market.
If so, you would be making a serious mistake.
Language being what it is, over the centuries words collect subtle variations of meaning. Many of them depend on usage and context. We err if we act as though the word “free” has a single, fixed meaning.
The same is true of the highly promiscuous use of the word “equal.” Two people who have equal rights do not necessarily have equal strength, equal ability, equal aptitude or equal weight. The “equal” that exists in the phrase equal work is not the same “equal” as exists in the phrase, equal pay.