The Post reports: “Hillary Rodham Clinton isn’t just running against Republicans. She’s also running against parts of her husband’s legacy. On issues large and small, the Democratic presidential contender is increasingly distancing herself from — or even opposing — key policies pushed by Bill Clinton while he was in the White House, from her recent skepticism on free-trade pacts to her full embrace of gay rights.” Of Clinton’s many political sins, I don’t find this inherently problematic and Republicans should be cautious about mocking this, especially when it comes to crime. (“The starkest example yet came Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton delivered an impassioned address condemning the ‘era of incarceration’ ushered in during the 1990s in the wake of her husband’s 1994 crime bill — though she never mentioned him or the legislation by name.”)
To begin with, Republicans were with Clinton in the 1990s on crime. Twenty years later, there are legitimate questions as to whether reforms went too far, what the consequences are and what changes, if any, need to be made. The policies were very successful in tandem with innovations in policing to reduce crime. So nothing wrong with supporting tough crime measures then, and tweaking them now. Many Republicans are doing exactly the same thing.
Moreover, there is no requirement that Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, for that matter, adhere to their relatives’ positions. Isn’t that the point — that candidates need to define themselves?
What Republicans should care about — and watch with increasing interest now that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is in the race — is to note how far left the Democratic Party has shifted. The media like to mock Republicans for becoming more ideological and less pragmatic, but the exact same trend has happened on the left. Consider how relatively robust was Clinton’s foreign policy compared with President Obama’s or how violent is the reaction against free trade on the left.
Republicans should keep in mind several factors. First, if the Democrats go far left, the middle remains vacant. It would be a mistake to choose someone equally extreme on the right, one devoted to ideology at the expense of reality. If ever Republicans needed to cement their place as the center-right party, it is now. Second, Republicans should test to see just how far left she will need to go to make Sanders and other opponents non-factors, and more important, to energize her own base. Is she going to run for “a third Obama term, but worse”? Single payer, cap and trade, repeal of the Hyde Amendment (i.e. taxpayer funding for abortion for any reason at any time), appeasement of Iran — where will it stop? To the extent Clinton emphasizes entrenchment and even expansion of the welfare state, Republicans have an opening to challenge her on the cost, efficacy and intrusiveness of her behemoth welfare state. And finally, Republicans should not step on their own message that she is a candidate of the past. If she is now departing from the past, how can Republicans criticize her for keeping up with the times?
The biggest concern for Republicans should not be to pummel Clinton — they are doing a fine job along with the media in damaging her credibility. The much more important task is for candidates to provide themselves as the opposite of Hillary Clinton — honest, contemporary, realistic and competent. Once they accomplish that, the comparison will follow and they hope the choice will be clear and stark. For governors, that means reminding voters what they have done and the degree to which they led in bipartisan fashion in states not necessarily friendly to Republicans. For senators, that means trying to come up with some leadership and executive bona fides. They need to stop acting like senators (actually reverting to behavior of minority senators who are out to make points, not accomplish much) and start presenting an agenda. And for non-politicians like Carly Fiorina, it means showing her superior analytical and problem-solving skills.