Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Clinton's Coherent Strategy

Hillary Clinton has made waves with her campaign strategy: it's pissing off the press and Republicans. Why? The short answer is that (a) she is running as an incumbent and (b) she has an amazingly tightly-coherent (and risk-averse) campaign strategy.

Let's take a closer look.
Clinton's Friendly-Path Strategy
The first thing that has been noted is that Clinton's campaign strategy is "friendly path"--that is, trying to keep Blue States in the fold rather than running a nation-wide campaign:
This means more focus on, like, Ohio and less focus on, like Arkansas. NBC's Chuck Todd, of course, has a problem with this:
"If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you're not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need." In today's highly polarized political world, this is how you win elections -- by motivating your base and by recognizing there are few swing voters left. But it also makes governing harder, especially when the parties are trading electoral victories every two years (with Democrats benefitting from presidential turnouts, and with Republicans benefitting from midterm turnouts). When you have data-driven candidates appealing to win 51% of voters, it means that a president's job-approval rating is never going to get much higher than that, and it means that bipartisan policy goals (like the TPP free-trade agreement) are the exception rather than the rule.
The National Journal's in-house Hillary critic Ron Fournier agrees it's a mistake--winning a narrow victory makes governing harder--and yet:
And yet, a large and growing number of self-identified independents consistently vote only Republican or Democratic. That explains Clinton's strategy: Technological advances will allow her team to pinpoint every possible backer and motivate them to vote with messages designed to stoke fear and hatred toward the GOP. 
After all, that's exactly what Republicans plan to do to Clinton—find every possible GOP voter, even among disillusioned independents, and teach them to hate her.
Indeed, it's hard to imagine either party playing this any other way: both sides need to win swing-states. It's not like the GOP is going to devote a lot of resources to Texas. It's also unlikely that Team Clinton will use its resources to build a 50-state apparatus during the primaries as she and Obama did for the 2008 election. Focusing is all that makes sense.

Clinton's Issues Trap
Brian Buetler thinks that Team Clinton's policy strategy is to take bold positions as early and often as possible to deny her GOP adversaries wiggle room and force them to go on the record, during the primary on the side of the far-right:
The nature of the strategy involves staking out a variety of progressive issue positions that enjoy broad support, but it’s not as straightforward as simply identifying the public sentiment and riding it to victory. The key is to embrace these objectives in ways that makes standard Republican counterspin completely unresponsive, and thus airs out the substantive core of their ideas: Rather than vie for conservative support by inching rightward, Clinton is instead reorienting liberal ideas in ways that make the Republican policy agenda come into greater focus.
For example: Voter ID
Clinton’s plan, by contrast, demands clarity from her opponents. She has proposed that every American, except those who opt out, be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, and that every state offer at least 20 days' worth of early voting. Republicans can’t easily oppose this—and oppose it they must—without being explicit about the fact that they want to keep the voting rolls as trim as possible.
In her latest stump speech Hillary called out several Republicans by name and decried their voter Id policies. Whether she got it right or not, the response from presidential hopeful John Kaisch was interesting:
But Kasich fired back: “It’s downright divisive to say that there is a plot to take away your right to vote. That’s the kind of thing in this campaign that will further divide America, and I’m not in this to divide the country, I’m in this to help be a uniter.”
Um, yeah--it might be 'divisive' but the idea that Voter ID isn't a demographic football going back and forth just doesn't pass the sniff test. If black people couldn't vote we'd have the last days of the McCain administration (or a Romney landslide, depending on when they lost it).

Hillary's Press Strategy
The Washington Post has a clock that counts minutes since Hillary has answered a press question! Today it stands here:
According to the site:
Last question answered: May 22, 2015, 1:46 p.m. Clinton discusses the Islamic State with the Post's Robert Costa.
Hillary's moves have been to go to small events with handpicked citizens and meet with them, more or less, in private--with a phalanx of press standing by outside trying to shout questions at her. It sounds brilliant, doesn't it--why doesn't everyone do that?

Because everyone else can't. In fact, no one else can. Hillary, effectively is the incumbent--in terms of name recognition, popularity, and command of news-cycles. She doesn't even (really) have to compete with members of her own party. She doesn't need the coverage everyone else desperately does. While the snarky clock makes a point, the counter is that engaging with the press is most dangerous when you are a front-runner and Hillary is, titanically, a front-runner.

The press may be more gentle with O'Malley or other challengers because there's just no interest or sport in taking them down--but for Hillary? She has a giant target painted on her (so do Jeb, Rubio, and Walker). Minimizing a chance to make a mistake--when mistakes are all just about guaranteed at some point--is a wise strategy.

But, of course, they hate her for it.

The Net-Net on Clinton's Strategy
As far as The Omnivore can see, this strategy is just about brilliant. It leverages Hillary's every asset--long lead time to the actual primaries without actual challengers, name recognition, and her Democrat Party* credentials--while minimizing her aperture of weakness (variability of success on the stump, historic lack of connection with voters, strained relationship with the press).

Her policy strategy--whether it is correctly analyzed above or not--is a gamble but it is a good one. By staking out fairly radical positions she is forcing the Republicans to come to her. This is dangerous for them when their own primary is essentially a tie: boiler-plate answers and bland talking points from the front-runners will provide space to their right and left for other, hungrier candidates to get around and flank them. It also provides meat for her base and even potentially moderate Democrats--that's the tip of the spear she's going to throw down that narrower alley of blue states we talked about in the beginning.

That limited battleground theory is also consistent with limited press coverage: she needs to connect with voters in states that matter--not create a national audience that may well be out of reach.

The Omnivore is utterly unimpressed with Ron Fouriner and Chuck Todd: it you think it is hard to govern after winning a narrow victory, try governing after you lose. Nate Silver has told us again and again there's no "blue wall"--but the Clinton Strategy looks like she's planning on taking the "blue wall states" and manning the ramparts there. Then, a few skirmishes outside 'friendly lines' and all she has to do is win one or two and the election is hers. The GOP will be forced to fight over a much larger area if Clinton doesn't cede states to them. Again, this is a fight-where-you-are-strong--and they-are-weak.

This appears to be a remarkably mature, remarkably integrated approach that may be every bit as impressive at the strategic level as Barack Obama's 2008 game.


  1. Good analysis. There's certainly a downplaying of expectations by the Clinton camp, which is smart, but I do wonder if '16 might lead to a bigger margin of victory than Obama saw in '08 given the gender angle. How many lean-right woman voters might punch Clinton's ticket just to break that glass ceiling?

  2. This is brilliant rope-a-dope. Let the opponent punch themselves out (against GOP primary opponents, then her majesty), then drop them with a glancing blow. The clown car Primates will create her weaponry in the early states (think: Iowa Romney). Cheryl Mills, Maggie Williams and Patti Doyle can ferociously call out the dog-whistle anti-woman signals from the right, allowing HRC to remain as Presidential as she can be. Great piece, Omnivore. Now make sure she doesn't stub her toe, eh?