This Is No Time to Play Defense

The third Republican presidential nomination debate is coming up in about ten days. It is one of 16 debates the GOP has scheduled, down from 20 last time.

How many Dem debates have been scheduled? Four. Maybe two more. The first one won’t be until October.

The story is that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has decided to limit the debates to protect Hillary Clinton. I think this is a mistake for the Dems, and even a mistake for Hillary Clinton. She’s being portrayed as a criminal bitch queen in news media; she needs to get herself out in front of the public as often as possible so that people can see she doesn’t really have horns and a forked tail. She can be a compelling campaigner when she tries; we saw that in 2008.

Meanwhile, most of the public knows nothing about Bernie Sanders except (according to news media) that he’s some kind of crazy radical socialist and/or the left-wing equivalent of Donald Trump. And Matin O’Malley who?

This is no time to play defense. Yes, the Right is stepping all over itself putting on a clown show, but as far as most of the public is concerned the Republicans are the only candidates who actually appear to be running.  I think America needs to see the Dem field, direct and unfiltered, to be reassured they aren’t crazy, too. And they need to see it a lot.

I honestly think the Dem debates will go a long way toward making the Republicans look even crazier and showing America what serious candidates look like, before they forget. And this needs to happen sooner rather than later, so that the Dems don’t find themselves playing catch up in 2016.

How much of the Wasserman Schultz strategy is at Hillary Clinton’s request? I don’t know, of course, but it seems Clinton is playing a defensive strategy rather than trying to take on her rivals directly. We read in the New York Times that she’s trying to build up a “firewall” in the southern states in hopes of locking up the nomination in March.

In interviews, advisers said the campaign was increasingly devoting staff members and money to win the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27 while laying the groundwork to sweep Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia on March 1. Those Super Tuesday states are highlighted in red on maps in the offices of Mrs. Clinton’s senior aides in Brooklyn.

The eight primaries will deliver several hundred delegates for Mrs. Clinton, advisers believe, toward the goal of more than 2,200 needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. The campaign is barraging superdelegates in the South with requests for support — sometimes even jumping the gun by sending pledge forms prematurely — in hopes of adding scores of these party leaders who can bring their votes to the Clinton column at the Democratic National Convention.

The Southern firewall also includes Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina, which vote through mid-March. If Mrs. Clinton wins big in the Michigan and Ohio primaries that month, her advisers and supporters believe, the nomination will essentially be hers (though crossing the total delegate threshold takes time).

She’s hoping that minority voters will give her the votes in the South, and maybe they will. But how smart is it to base your nomination strategy on picking up delegates in states you have little hope of winning in the general election?

I agree with David Atkins:

This strategy may or may not be successful in the long run, but it’s terrible politics. Losing support among young progressive activists, white liberals and first-timers to politics, Clinton’s strategy isn’t to aggressively fight to win back the hearts and souls of those voters, but rather to build a firewall around her support among minority voters in the South.

First, there’s no guarantee that strategy will work. Contrary to the claims of some observers, Sanders’ low level of support among minority voters has far more to do with name recognition than with actual policy concerns or inside-the-tent scuffles with Black Lives Matter protesters. Nor is it possible to fully predict what might happen if Joe Biden were to enter the race. If Sanders or Biden do, shockingly, win in Iowa and New Hampshire, that event combined with a series of debates would almost certainly make an impact on minority Southern voters as well.

Second, it would have a crushing effect on Democratic activist enthusiasm. Barack Obama’s support among minority base voters was obviously a net benefit for the Party, but the Obama moment was driven equally much by the passionate activism of young people, liberal activists and political neophytes. If Clinton holds onto a win in spite of opposition from these groups, it will leave her in a weakened state and have depressive effects on Democratic turnout for every race down the ballot.

It would also have a depressive effect on the Democratic Party in the future, I believe. Instead of playing defense, she needs to be trying to win the votes of  young people, liberal activists and political neophytes, or at least some of  ’em, and she’d better hurry up about it.

It might help to sign the petition. Can’t hurt.

7 thoughts on “This Is No Time to Play Defense

  1. Oy.

    Yes, the Dem’s need more debates so that they get in the MSM, since Trump seems to have sucked-up all of the O2 in the media, the GOP – and some on the Dem side, too.

    And we need to show that we are the party of ideas and policies, and not hatred, fear, bigotry, and resentment, like the GOP.

    DWS is someone I used to like a bit, because she wasn’t shy when she got airtime. But, ever since she became the head of the DNC, she isn’t as aggressive as I would like her to be.
    I preferred Howard Dean, and his “Fifty State Strategy.” Sure, we ended up with some worthless Blue Dog’s, but at least people in every district were aware that there is a Democratic Party out there in their area.

    I don’t know if Hillary is playing “Rope-a-Dope,” by not joining the fray too early, and letting the psychopaths and sociopaths in the GOP make a spectacle of themselves as they try to knock each other out to prove that they’re even more crazy and bigoted than the other clowns.

    When I start to get pessimistic, I try to remind myself that behind her are two of the greatest natural politicians and political minds in the last 25 years – Bill and Barack!

    Maybe she’s giving the GOP dopes enough rope to hang one another!

  2. This ALWAYS happens — there is always an insurgent candidate who sucks up a lot of attention very early on, wins a few primaries, and then flames out. Polls have very little accuracy this far out. I’m not saying you’re wrong — just that we shouldn’t read too much into what’s happening now.

    The Democratic primaries will produce a winner. I don’t know who it should be, but I’m sure that that person will be able to mobilize Democratic voters — they’ll have the spectre of the Republican front-runners to help. Remember how vitriolic the final stages of the Democratic primaries were in 2008? Obama still won with the idealistic young and the stodgy elders both.

    If the Democratic coalition is so weak that it splinters months before the first primary, then it deserves a Republican president to focus its thoughts for the next election.

  3. Like I always say, the way Republicans win is that they actually bother to vote, instead of intellectualizing about it.

    And here we sit, a GOP hopeful who has captured the imaginations of the weak minded (at least half the country), and a hold-your-nose Democrat who is more focussed on tactically cutting off her far-more-interesting Democratic rivals then making a case for progress. But it is still early days….

  4. Maha, your analysis is a very good one. Personally, I think Hillary needs the pressure, and needs it now while she can adjust to it.

    In a way, I almost don’t care which Democrat gets nominated. Clinton, Sanders and Biden are all considerably better than anything the Republicans can give us. Any of these Democrats have my vote.

    But a vigorous campaign is what turns up the volume and turns people out to vote. The Democrats need a lot more noise and attention. I also want the Democrats to take back at least one House. That requires some enthusiasm and a turnout.

  5. I signed the petition, but would have preferred it also cover what I see as two other major reasons she should go. One is her backstabbing on the Iran deal; sure, she knuckled under finally, but someone in her position should never have gone there in the first place*. The other is that we need someone who pushes progressive candidates and a 50 states, and all districts, strategy.

    * it also seems to me that someone who’s not full time in the DNC job inherently has divided loyalties and of course divided time. So the DNC just isn’t all that important? We don’t need someone there who can give the job their full attention? Hey, if it’s a nothingburger of a position, eliminate it. If it’s important – and I think it is – treat it with some respect and do it right!

  6. Clinton is not a strong campaigner – and she knows it; the more exposure she gets, the more she will look like Michael Dukakis.

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