Later this morning, Hillary Clinton will deliver the first in a series of speeches that will lay out her diagnosis of what has happened to the American economy and what she would do about it as president. According to a campaign official, Clinton will confirm that the overarching theme of these speeches will be this: “making sure the real incomes of everyday Americans are rising steadily and strongly is the defining economic challenge of our time.”

And so, which nominee truly represents the interests of working and middle class Americans will be one of the central battles of 2016 — whether they are defined as “everyday Americans,” or as “hard-working taxpayers,” as Scott Walker’s new announcement video puts it.

Republicans think they have hit on the ideal strategy to combat Clinton’s efforts in that regard: They will subject her to the Mitt Romney treatment. The New York Times’ Ashley Parker and Amy Chozick report that Karl Rove’s Crossroads group has convened focus groups designed to test the best ways of vilifying Clinton.

Chozick finds that Republicans are beside themselves with glee over Hillary’s recent claim that the Clintons were “dead broke” when they left the White House — they think it rivals Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark as powerful ammunition to portray her as “out of touch.” The “dead broke” remark will help Republicans portray a “gulf” between Clinton’s life and that of the “less affluent.”

But there’s a problem with this diagnosis: Voters my well evaluate attacks on the image and character of candidates through the prism of their actual policy proposals and the priorities that underlie them. Many Dems believe the attacks on Romney as an elitist plutocrat were successful not simply because of his manner and profile, but also because they resonated with public perceptions that his policy proposals actually would favor the wealthy.

David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Obama’s two presidential campaigns, arguably has a good sense of why the attacks on Romney worked. I asked him for comment on the GOP efforts to portray Clinton as out of touch, and he emailed:

The case against Romney as an out-touch, economic [elitist] worked because all the pieces fit — profile, policy and pronouncements. He helped us make the case every day. Hillary’s campaign clearly is focused on the middle class and meeting the challenges of inequality and the lack of mobility in today’s economy. It’s about honoring the value of work.
The Republicans may try and make a lifestyle case, but lifestyle is the least of it. It’s what you believe and where you propose to lead.

To be sure, Republicans are also testing attacks on Clinton as untrustworthy, in the wake of revelations about her emails, and some polls have shown a trust deficit. But as Ron Brownstein has noted, it’s not clear whether voters have to be convinced of Clinton’s integrity for her to win, because “empathy, faith in her competency, and ideological compatibility” may matter more.

Such traits are likely to be judged in the context of the great debate over who genuinely has the interests of economically struggling Americans at heart. And that debate will not be decided in a policy-free vacuum.


* HILLARY TO CALL FOR ‘PROFIT SHARING’: According to a Clinton campaign official, Clinton will vow to fight for “profit sharing” in her speech this morning, saying:

“Hard-working Americans deserve to benefit from the record corporate earnings they helped produce. So I will propose ways to encourage companies to share profits with their employees. That will be good for workers and good for business.  Studies show profit-sharing that gives everyone a stake in a company’s success can boost productivity and put money directly into employees’ pockets. It’s a win-win.”

The Center for American Progress’ “Inclusive Prosperity” blueprint, which is expected to heavily influence Clinton, lays out ways to incentivize “profit sharing,” to increase worker productivity and boost wages, and with them, demand.

* WALKER TO TOUT SUCCESS IN CRUSHING UNIONS: With Scott Walker set to “officially” announce his candidacy today, the Associated Press reports that he will tout his successes in weakening public employees’ bargaining rights, among other achievements:

Walker cut income and corporate taxes by nearly $2 billion, lowered property taxes, legalized the carrying of concealed weapons, made abortions more difficult to obtain, required photo identification when voting and made Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

Parading your vanquished liberal foes’ heads around on spikes might appeal to GOP primary voters, but it’s not clear how all this stuff will play with a general election audience.

* WHY WALKER IS MOVING TO THE RIGHT: It’s been widely noted that Walker is moving to the right on immigration and gay marriage and more because he’s betting it all on winning Iowa, and a Walker adviser explains all:

“You start in Iowa and lock up conservatives, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest matters,” said one longtime Walker adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. “It’s much easier to move from being a conservative to being a middle-of-the-road moderate later on.”

Yes, and “Etch A Sketch” worked really well for Mitt Romney, too. Meanwhile NARAL Pro Choice America is releasing a new ad in Iowa showing Walker’s shifting abortion stances.

Dealing with legislation at home was supposed to be the low-drama part of Walker’s year. Instead, things here in Madison have been in turmoil for months — a complication for a governor building his presidential candidacy around his ability to get things done.

You’d think that Walker’s actual record as governor would get a through airing out soon enough, particularly when Jeb Bush begins aggressively contrasting his record as Florida governor with that of his Wisconsin counterpart.

* JEB BUSH REMARK SHOWCASES DEEP DIVIDE BETWEEN PARTIES: Paul Krugman has a good column on the deeper meaning of Jeb Bush’s suggestion that people need to work longer hours:

There’s now an effective consensus among Democrats…that workers need more help, in the form of guaranteed health insurance, higher minimum wages, enhanced bargaining power, and more. Republicans, however, believe that American workers just aren’t trying hard enough to improve their situation, and that the way to change that is to strip away the safety net while cutting taxes on wealthy “job creators.”

Indeed, elsewhere in his remarks, Bush did again confirm that he thinks getting government out of the way and cutting taxes across the board is the solution to the broken link between worker productivity and stagnating wages.

Hillaryeconomics is a wager that voters across racial and ethnic lines, very much including members of the white working class, want a raise and better benefits. And it’s a sharp challenge to Republicans. To be competitive in 2016, the GOP needs to make a plausible counteroffer. It’s the bidding war an economy mired in inequality and stalled mobility needs — and it’s one Clinton thinks she can win.

In other words, despite all the pundit prattle about Clinton’s move to the left, her bid for the Obama coalition does not preclude reaching beyond it.