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An article in the Washington Examiner today asks a startling question: Are Republicans Ready For Hillary?
OKLAHOMA CITY—Are the Republican presidential candidates ready for Hillary? All three who addressed the Southern Republican Leadership Conference Thursday gave sharp speeches that were well received by the audience and seemed to be spoiling for a fight. It's nevertheless possible that the answer is no.The article suggests that what the current game-plan is for Republican hopefuls is running against Obama--who, of course, isn't running (that is, until Jade Helm 15 kicks in). In one sense this is an obvious strategy: however much the base dislikes Hillary, they (presently) dislike Obama more--and for the three guys in the article it's pretty clear that attacks on Obama are a way to get a positive reaction while attacks on Hillary might draw a more luke-warm response.
. . .
Yet it was striking that all three of them were at least as focused on Barack Obama as Hillary Clinton. Even many of their attacks on Clinton came by way of her service as secretary of state under Obama, an extension of their critique of the incumbent president.
Still, the question is an important one--because by the end of 2016, when the election happens, Obama (a) will still be president and (b) there will likely be 'after-shocks' of Obama that carry over well into 2017 and beyond. What after-shocks are these? Well, just to pick two:
- ISIS Won't Be Defeated On Obama's Watch (says White House)
- Obama's Game Of ObamaCare 'Chicken' With Supreme Court May 'Come Home To Roost'
Depending on how events play out over the next eighteen months, the election could find itself grounded in--if not floundering in--domestic and international events that Obama is heavily attached to. Both of these have problematic overtones for Republicans--but might also provide some windows of opportunity. Let's look.
Obama vs. ISIS
Taxpayers are paying about 8.6 million dollars per day degrading ISIS and they just took over two cities in Iraq. Is this a total failure of Obama's strategy? While the answer to that is "no"--the nuance around it (that the locals having to do their part is a key element of the strategy, even if they fail to--that's still part of the plan) will not reach most voters.
Attacking Obama: Since Obama is the commander in chief and has given some hopeful assessments (remember the Democratic outcry over 'Mission Accomplished'?) of the ISIS situation so he also owns visible setbacks. In short, this criticism is fine (and legitimate so long as it keeps to fact-based assessments of the situation--berating the president over optimistic-sounding announcements is just partisanship).
Attacking Hillary: It's harder to attack Hillary on ISIS. For one thing, she voted with Bush for the war on Iraq and is hawkish in general. It is possible that a Hillary regime might step up attacks like a neo-con group would. If they can get her to commit to that, fine: her base will hate it--but The Omnivore thinks that Hillary's brand isn't that of a push-over. She hasn't groveled for her Iraq vote and doesn't seem inclined to. Bill Clinton was reasonably willing to attack people. If they try to paint Hillary as Carter, it may backfire.
The Danger: The danger, of course, is that in order to "declare war on ISIS" a Republican candidate must either commit to boots-on-the-ground or else tie himself into a pretzel ("We're gonna BOMB 'EM into the 7th Century!" . . . ."Aren't we already bombing them?" . . . "I'll bomb-em MOAR!" . . . "Can we just win this with air-power? Really? The generals don't seem to think so." . . . "Next question!").
It's harder to be more-hawk than a hawk when you can't discuss nuanced strategies.
The Ruins of ObamaCare
This June we may see the court gut ObamaCare's subsidies. This will create all kinds of chaos and, if it happens, The Omnivore's silver-lining will be a belly full of popcorn as the legislative fireworks go off. The Omnivore has already written about this--but the smart money is that if the court rules against the ACA the GOP will have to play their position flawlessly to come out ahead. Thus far they have not been able to play anything flawlessly.
Attacking Obama: In the Court-Rules-Against-The-ACA scenario, we can postulate a 2016 election that sees legislative deadlock between Obama refusing anything but a fix to the bill and Republicans clamoring for repeal and, maybe, replacement. In this scenario, going after Obama is the only possible strategy: Hillary could be presented as pro-ACA--but the only way to win this war is to convince the public that Obama--whose name the ACA bears in public parlance--bears the responsibility for the broken language and that Republicans would be negligent to even entertain fixing it.
As some 7 to 13 million people lose their insurance (since without subsidies it's unaffordable) the pressure to do something will build quickly. If this isn't resolved there could be some real crisis-football going on during the heat of the general.
Attacking Hillary: In the event of a healthcare meltdown, Hillary will be tough to attack save by association. Firstly, she is free to suggest any number of fixes she would bring to the table and if they are potentially quickly done, the attack will boomerang back on the GOP as to "why don't you do it RIGHT NOW--you're all mostly still in office." This will be true for a 1-line fix that reinstates the subsidies or a more complicated plan (which the GOP will likely not agree on).
The Danger: The problem with the ACA is that if the president doesn't wind up owning it--and despite what the linked article says above, it seems unlikely that he will--it becomes a very, very hot potato in the Republican's lap. Making this a cornerstone of their strategy going into 2016 is hugely perilous. Yes: it's fine to be against the ACA and to repeal/replace it--starting in 2017. It is NOT however good to be against healthcare in general during the general if (a) your team cannot agree on what is to be done and (b) there is a simple steady-as-she-goes solution out there for the taking.
Given that the presidential hopefuls in the GOP are competing against each other--both in the primary (who can be MOST anti-ACA?) and in the general (who can propose a popular health-care law?) the drivers for agreement within the party simply will not exist.
A huge contested primary is the worst time for the GOP to have a major policy battle.
The 2016 cycle is going to be fascinating because the terrain is still set up to favor a GOP v. Obama showdown which, The Omnivore assesses, is what the GOP base wants emotionally-speaking--but the actual election is GOP vs. Hillary. The focus on Obama, if not shifted, will provide Hillary an opportunity to flank the GOP by offering proposals that take the wind out of their position (more hawkish than Obama on ISIS--but still not boots-on-the-ground--same as every GOP potential will be trying to sell).
The signature Obama issues also expose the GOP's internal divisions and points of weakness (what is the GOP's position on foreign policy these days? Okay, other than "Get a time machine and go back BEFORE Obama . . ." Right: Nothing.). It will be an interesting needle to watch them thread and it will be fascinating to see if Team Hillary is able to capitalize on her not-Obama-ness or not.