AGAINST THE GRAIN

Hillary Clinton’s Vanishing Base

She’s losing millennials to Bernie Sanders and failing to energize women and minorities—and why that figures to be a problem for her in November.

Hillary Clinton arrives to speak on April 6 in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
Josh Kraushaar
April 12, 2016, 8 p.m.

It’s a safe bet that who­ever emerges as the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee will have trouble en­er­giz­ing a fac­tion of the party’s loy­al­ists in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Don­ald Trump would be un­ac­cept­able to much of the party’s rank-and-file, Ted Cruz would dis­ap­point Trump fans and es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans alike, and an out­side “white knight” can­did­ate would risk ali­en­at­ing the ma­jor­ity of GOP voters who cast bal­lots for one of the two front-run­ners.

But Hil­lary Clin­ton is fa­cing a ser­i­ous prob­lem with her own party’s base in the on­go­ing primary against Bernie Sanders. She’s be­ing soundly re­jec­ted by mil­len­ni­als, a core ele­ment of Barack Obama’s co­ali­tion, while gen­er­at­ing only mid­dling en­thu­si­asm from His­pan­ics and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans. Without Obama in the race, Clin­ton ex­pec­ted black voters to once again be a pil­lar of her sup­port. And the more po­lite tone of the Demo­crat­ic cam­paign has turned nas­ti­er in re­cent weeks, with Sanders call­ing Clin­ton “un­qual­i­fied” to be pres­id­ent and Clin­ton’s hus­band re­buk­ing Afric­an-Amer­ic­an pro­test­ers on the cam­paign trail for be­ing ob­li­vi­ous to the crime-fight­ing suc­cesses of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The num­bers don’t lie. As my col­league Ron Brown­stein noted, 71 per­cent of Demo­crat­ic voters un­der the age of 30 have flocked to Sanders—even though it’s been clear for a month that he faces near-im­possible odds of win­ning the nom­in­a­tion. For the second straight elec­tion, Clin­ton has al­lowed an in­sur­gent to cap­ture a his­tor­ic share of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s primary votes. She is now stag­ger­ing to the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion with a shrink­ing 1-point lead over Sanders in the latest Real­Clear­Polit­ics av­er­age of na­tion­al primary polls.  

Demo­crat­ic turnout has plummeted in nearly every state from 2008, in­clud­ing in areas with large non­white vot­ing pop­u­la­tions. His­pan­ics stayed home in Texas, con­trib­ut­ing to a nearly 50 per­cent drop-off in turnout from eight years ago. In Geor­gia, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans didn’t vote in large num­bers, cut­ting the state’s Demo­crat­ic turnout from over 1 mil­lion in 2008 to only 765,000 in 2016. The fast-grow­ing Pu­erto Ric­an pop­u­la­tion cen­ter of Flor­ida—Or­ange County—saw Demo­crat­ic turnout dip by 16,000 voters from eight years ago. Cuyahoga County, the Demo­crat­ic base of battle­ground Ohio, saw a whop­ping 44 per­cent de­cline in party voters.  

No, primary turnout doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily trans­late in­to gen­er­al-elec­tion res­ults. If Re­pub­lic­ans nom­in­ate Don­ald Trump, he’d be a one-man mo­bil­iz­a­tion ma­chine for many of these con­stitu­en­cies. But when you have a can­did­ate who is con­sist­ently un­der­per­form­ing with core ele­ments of the Obama co­ali­tion, it raises ser­i­ous ques­tions about the can­did­ate’s ap­peal. Clin­ton’s Obama-cent­ric cam­paign strategy re­lies on ral­ly­ing the base be­fore reach­ing out to dis­af­fected mod­er­ates. If tout­ing Obama’s agenda and co-opt­ing ele­ments of Sanders’s stump speech can’t rally the party faith­ful, what will?

In hind­sight, Clin­ton would have been bet­ter served em­bra­cing the cent­rist “Third Way” polit­ics that her hus­band cham­pioned while not pan­der­ing to the lib­er­al con­stitu­en­cies already aligned with Sanders. If she pitched a plan for eco­nom­ic growth in­stead of lament­ing in­come in­equal­ity, sup­por­ted free trade in­stead of sid­ing with her party’s pop­u­lists against Obama’s trade deal, and stood up to the ex­treme voices in her party (like Bill Clin­ton did last week), she’d be in bet­ter po­s­i­tion to win over the in­de­pend­ents and mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans who loathe Trump and are luke­warm to Cruz.  

By veer­ing to the left from the out­set and run­ning on a third term of Obama’s pres­id­ency, she’s made it very dif­fi­cult to win over voters in the middle. She emu­lated the Obama cam­paign’s be­lief that elec­tions are won by ral­ly­ing the base, not by ap­peal­ing to the shrink­ing num­ber of un­de­cided voters. Now, fa­cing res­ist­ance from that very base, she’s be­come de­pend­ent on Re­pub­lic­ans to nom­in­ate someone un­elect­able to get her out of her pre­dic­a­ment.

Iron­ic­ally, if Cruz were the nom­in­ee, he’d have little trouble win­ning over the con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an base. In­deed, he’d ad­opt a gen­er­al-elec­tion strategy that’s aw­fully sim­il­ar to Obama’s 2012 cam­paign—rally the par­tis­an faith­ful and rely on his op­pon­ent’s neg­at­ives to drive voters his way. But he would face ser­i­ous dif­fi­culty in keep­ing less-par­tis­an voters in his camp. Some of Trump’s dis­af­fected sup­port­ers could end up stay­ing home if he’s the nom­in­ee, and Cruz would also face res­ist­ance from main­line Re­pub­lic­ans.

This pres­id­en­tial elec­tion will be de­cided by which party can best win over con­stitu­en­cies that have been stub­bornly res­ist­ant to es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ites: work­ing-class white voters (for Re­pub­lic­ans, if Trump isn’t the nom­in­ee) and mil­len­ni­als (for Hil­lary Clin­ton). Demo­crats are hop­ing that at­tacks on Cruz’s con­ser­vat­ive ideo­logy and unc­tu­ous per­son­al­ity will be enough to turn out their de­pressed base. Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing that Clin­ton is re­viled enough to uni­fy the op­pos­i­tion and heal the party’s deep di­vi­sions in the four months after the Clev­e­land con­ven­tion.   

One thing is clear: The gen­er­al elec­tion will con­tin­ue to be a race to the bot­tom.

What We're Following See More »
TOOTHLESS?
UN Security Council Condemns N. Korea Launch
39 minutes ago
THE LATEST
HAD SOUGHT INFO ON LOBBYISTS IN ADMINISTRATION
White House Snubs OGE’s Request for Info on Waivers
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose any ethics waivers granted to former lobbyists who now work in the White House or federal agencies." The White House sent a letter to OGE head Walter Shaub, which "challenged his legal authority to demand the information. Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them."

Source:
NIKKI HALEY HEADING FOR ANKARA
Turkey Summons U.S. Ambassador
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
THOMAS JOINS COURT’S LIBERALS
Court Rules Against NC Voting Districts, Says They Were Racially Motivated
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Supreme Court ruled Monday that racial considerations pervaded the way North Carolina lawmakers drew congressional maps after the 2010 Census in order to maximize Republicans' advantage. The 5-3 ruling, written by Justice Elena Kagan, was the latest in a series of decisions by the justices against the excessive use of race in redistricting, the decennial process of drawing new district lines for Congress and state legislatures. Justice Clarence Thomas joined the court's four liberal justices in striking down the state's maps."

Source:
UNANIMOUS DECISION
SCOTUS Rules Against Venue Shopping in Patent Cases
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Writing for an 8-0 Supreme Court on Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that patent lawsuits "must be brought in the state where the defendant company is incorporated. ... The ruling likely spells an end to the near-monopoly the federal court in the Eastern District of Texas holds in handling patent cases. Plaintiffs for decades have filed suits in that pro-plaintiff district based on a broader interpretation of venue that made suits possible almost anywhere."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login