The 2016 Democratic presidential campaign is beginning to take shape. It’s a highly unusual campaign. Hillary Clinton commands the massive party loyalty of an incumbent, except she’s not an incumbent, so it is possible for another Democrat to challenge her without the campaign necessarily signalling the all-out, you-have-failed opposition of a Gene McCarthy in 1968, Ted Kennedy in 1980, Pat Buchanan in 1992, and so on. The campaign, instead, is likely to center on organized liberals using a candidacy to pressure Clinton not to move too far toward the center.
Three developments this week have given that campaign a more visible shape:
1. Bernie Sanders looks like a likely candidate. “I’ll be going to New Hampshire, and I’ll be going to Iowa,” he told the Hill. “That’s part of my trying to ascertain the kind of support that exists for a presidential run.” Sanders plans to run on a left-liberal economics program: “a 'massive jobs program,' raising the minimum wage, changing the nation’s trade policies, programs to make childcare and college education more affordable, and subsidized healthcare.”
2. Elizabeth Warren — a possible opponent who has been more coy than Sanders but has pointedly left the door open — was asked about Israel at a town-hall meeting. A constituent compared Israel’s counterattack in Gaza to that of the police in Ferguson. Warren struck a surprisingly hawkish tone:
Warren told [the questioner] she appreciated his comments, but "we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one."
"I think the vote was right, and I'll tell you why I think the vote was right," she said. "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world."
Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel "indiscriminately," but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have "not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for." When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel's attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the "last thing Israel wants."
"But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they're using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself," Warren said, drawing applause.
If Warren runs, her candidacy seems less likely to be the vehicle for dovish foreign-policy critics of Clinton. Or, at least, that campaign will have a significant omission on Israel.
3. One of the most gaping opportunities against Clinton might have been Ferguson and police discrimination, where liberals — especially African-Americans — have expressed outrage, and Clinton has kept silent. Today, Clinton spoke about Ferguson and closed that gap:
“We can’t ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality,” she said.
“Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around,” Clinton said. “If white offenders received prison sentences 10 percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes. If a third of all white men—just look at this room and take one third—went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans and so many of the communities in which they live.”
So, where does the Democratic campaign stand? As of now, there appear to be possible avenues for a left-wing challenge on economics. A challenge to push her on social issues or foreign policy has not yet emerged on the horizon.