One of the most common questions in Democratic politics is obvious, though it’s not easy to answer: Once the primaries are over, how will Hillary Clinton unify progressive voters ahead of the general election? Much of the discussion involves speculation about Bernie Sanders’ strategy, the party’s convention, the party’s platform, Clinton’s eventual running mate, etc.
But there’s a piece to this puzzle that sometimes goes overlooked: Clinton will try to bring Democrats and progressive independents together, but it’s Donald Trump who’ll seal the deal.
Last October, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi covered the House Republicans’ Benghazi Committee and its 11-hour grilling of Clinton, and he wrote a very memorable piece soon after. Taibbi, a Clinton detractor, conceded at the time that he started to feel more sympathetic towards the Democrat, not out of pity, but in response to the GOP’s outrageous antics.
Those idiots represent everything that is wrong not just with the Republican Party, but with modern politics in general. It’s hard to imagine a political compromise that wouldn’t be justified if its true aim would be to keep people like those jackasses out of power.
In context, none of this had anything to do with Bernie Sanders or the Democratic primary, but Taibbi’s point – there’s value in compromise if it means keeping “those jackasses out of power” – lingered in my mind because I suspect many of Sanders’ die-hard supporters will be making a similar calculation in the coming months.
And Donald Trump, whether he realizes it or not, is going to help.
This is sometimes forgotten, but for much of Bill Clinton’s presidency, he was popular with Democrats, but not that popular. The former president developed a reputation, which was well deserved, for adopting a “triangulation” posture and taking advice from the likes of Dick Morris. Among congressional Democrats at the time, they supported Clinton, but often through gritted teeth.
How did Bill Clinton eventually bring Democrats together, uniting them behind his presidency? He didn’t; Tom DeLay did. The more intense the congressional Republicans’ anti-Clinton crusade became – culminating, of course, in impeachment – the more congressional Democrats rallied around their ally in the White House. It wasn’t overly complicated: Dems may have been annoyed by the president triangulating, but they were far more disgusted with Republican extremism.
Nearly two decades later, consider how Donald Trump is shifting his focus to the 2016 general election: Trump is attacking Hillary Clinton over her gender; he’s blaming her for ’90s-era sex scandals; and in a line of attack that no sane person should consider normal, he’s suggesting that she might have had something to do with Vince Foster’s death. You’ve heard the cliche, campaigns are always about the future? The presumptive Republican nominee, who has no real policy agenda or specific goals of his own, has decided this campaign is entirely about the past.
There may be Republican voters who find all of this compelling, but let’s not discount the fact that these are the kind of attacks that also motivate Democratic and progressive voters in the opposite direction.
The number of liberal Sanders supporters watching the news this week, eager to hear more from Trump about Vince Foster conspiracy theories, is probably infinitesimally small. But the number of progressive voters watching all of this unfold, thinking about keeping “people like those jackasses out of power,” is probably quite high.
The question of how Clinton and Sanders will reconcile, keeping left-of-center voters together, obviously matters. But the question of how many of these same voters will gravitate to Clinton instinctively out of contempt for the Republican nominee may end up mattering just as much.