Hillary Clinton’s outreach to Republicans, which began in earnest during the Democratic convention and has continued ever since, has annoyed a lot of Democrats, because it seems an open invitation to ticket-splitting and down-ballot defeats. If, as she suggests, Trump is not a “real Republican” and “real Republicans” can support her without shame, then it is surely all right for these crossover voters to vote for those un-Trump-like GOP candidates for the Senate and House and state legislatures, right?
But there is a more basic problem with the Clinton strategy of seeking endorsements from former members of Republican administrations: She is handing out IOUs to these people despite an absence of evidence they are bringing actual Republican voters along with them.
As Politico notes today, the GOPers endorsing Clinton are not doing so for pure love of country. They expect to be rewarded for their apostasy:
Access, appointments and influence over a Clinton administration’s policies is the just dessert that a growing slate of conservative policy wonks, Capitol Hill veterans and former GOP administration officials say they expect for endorsing and in some cases raising money for the Democratic presidential nominee.
There are some mighty odds ducks in the ranks of these supposed converts to Clinton, as Rick Perlstein pungently noted:
Leslie Dach, a former executive at Walmart (which just happens to be the most savagely anti-union corporation in America), has headed these outreach efforts since last spring. Was Dach vetted for her accord with the position, as Clinton put it in the Detroit speech, that “strengthening unions doesn’t just serve members, it leads to better wages and working conditions for all employees”? Would [Matt] Higgins, the Giuliani flack, feel comfortable in a room with the Mothers of the Movement, the collective of mothers of victims of police violence who spoke so eloquently at the Democratic National Convention? Does the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute expect Clinton to aspire to the sterling example of George W. Bush’s public-policy accomplishments, in exchange for the votes [James K.] Glassman intends to deliver?
Even if they don’t get a disproportionate share of appointments, the need to pay at least lip service to the idea of a bipartisan administration will create some uncomfortable moments in transition meetings where former George W. Bush advisers could be sitting check by jowl with former Bernie Sanders supporters there to make sure Clinton keeps her progressive promises.
And what is Clinton getting for her pains, other than the approbation of editorial boards that worship at the tarnished altar of bipartisanship? Not a lot, it seems. For all the talk of #NeverTrump Republicans, they are not that thick on the ground. The latest national poll to come out, from Reuters/Ipsos, shows Clinton attracting just 6 percent of self-identified Republicans. That’s less than the 8 percent of Democrats who say they are voting for Trump.
What a lot of progressives fear is that Clinton’s ultimate motive in “reaching out” to Republican elites signals an intention to make bipartisanship —which they regard largely as unilateral disarmament — a leitmotif of her administration, just as Obama did until well into his second term. And she has talked that way on occasion. Indeed, old-timers may recall her boasts about getting along well with Republican colleagues when she was in the Senate.
The better evidence is that she knows trying to govern with Republicans controlling one or both Houses of Congress will be an extremely difficult process — particularly with antipathy to her being the most obvious point of unity for a post-Trump party — and that blasting GOP obstruction may be the only way she can help her party minimize losses in what will be a tough 2018 landscape. If there’s any cooing and billing toward Republicans coming from a Clinton White House after their leaders make it clear they will offer her no “honeymoon,” it will probably be for show, simply to make it clear who is to blame for the renewed gridlock. And the trouble with the alternative progressive strategy is that it leads nowhere so long as the phantasm of a progressive majority remains hidden, quite possibly because it does not exist.
So, in itself, Clinton’s “bipartisan” outreach may not do much harm. But if it’s more a gesture than an electoral or a governing strategy, somebody in Hillaryland should probably, in all charity, get the word out to defectors that they cannot expect much after the election, other than an invite to view the White House Christmas decorations.