Exclusive: Democratic Party honchos who wanted Hillary Clinton’s coronation are having some regrets as her weaknesses become obvious, her poll numbers sink, and Donald Trump surges toward the lead, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Last year when Democratic insiders looked forward to Election 2016, they expected a run-of-the-mill Republican, possibly even legacy candidate Jeb Bush. So they countered with their own “safe” next-in-line legacy candidate, Hillary Clinton, who would supposedly win by playing up the prospect of the first woman president.
In such an expected match-up, the concern of rank-and-file Democrats about Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy would be negated by the GOP nominee still defending President George W. Bush’s Iraq War and again surrounded by neocons pounding the drums for even more wars. With both parties putting forward war candidates, anti-war Democrats would accept Clinton as the lesser evil, or so the thinking went.
The likely Republican nominee also would be burdened by reactionary domestic proposals, including GOP plans for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. By contrast, centrist Clinton would look reasonable in promising to protect those popular programs, albeit with some modest trimming of benefits to please the budget hawks.
But the Democratic insiders didn’t count on the unlikely emergence of populist billionaire Donald Trump, who repudiated Bush’s Iraq War and the GOP’s neocon foreign policy and rejected Republican orthodoxy on “entitlement reform,” i.e., slashing Social Security and Medicare.
The unabashed Trump also has made clear that he is not afraid of countering Clinton’s “woman card” by playing his own “man card,” including attacks on her troubled marriage and her tolerance of Bill Clinton’s notorious womanizing, even claiming that she was her wayward husband’s “enabler.”
At first, the Democratic hierarchy couldn’t believe its luck as the Republican Party seemed to splinter over Trump’s disdain for the GOP’s neocon interventionism and rejection of the party’s cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare. Trump’s mocking attacks on his rivals also shattered the decorum that Republican leaders had hoped would mark their primary campaign.
So, the Democratic insiders initially rubbed their hands with glee and imagined not only an easy presidential victory but major gains in the House and Senate. However, new polls show Trump running neck-and-neck with Clinton nationally and in key battleground states, while other polls reveal strong public doubts about Clinton’s honesty, thus wiping the premature smiles off the Democrats’ faces.
Indeed, some Democrats reportedly are slipping into panic mode as they watch Clinton’s poll numbers tank and the Republican Party come to grips with the Trump phenomenon. The new storyline of Campaign 2016 is the tale of top Republicans reconciling to Trump’s populist conquest of the party. At least, these GOP leaders acknowledge, Trump has excited both average Republicans and many independents.
The obsessive media coverage of Trump’s meetings on Thursday with senior congressional Republicans made the narcissistic real estate mogul and reality TV star look like some major world leader being received in Washington as a conquering hero. And, with the GOP rallying behind Trump, the likelihood is that his poll numbers and favorable/unfavorable ratings will continue to improve.
So, instead of Democratic dreams of a landslide victory, the party insiders are worrying now about their decision to coronate a deeply flawed and wounded candidate in Hillary Clinton. Not only could she lose to Trump but she could take many of the House and Senate candidates down with her. It’s dawning on some Democrats that they may have squandered a historic opportunity to realign American politics to the left by promoting the wrong person in 2016.
At a moment when the American people are demanding change – even willing to risk entrusting the White House to the unorthodox and inexperienced Donald Trump – the Democratic Party may be stuck with an uninspiring status quo candidate who also is pro-war, indeed far more hawkish than President Barack Obama.
Thus, in the fall election, not only would Trump be in a position to bait Clinton about her dysfunctional marriage, reminding the nation of the messy scandals of the 1990s, but he could challenge her on her warmongering positions, including her years of support for the Iraq War and her hawkish policies as Secretary of State, including her instigation of the disastrous “regime change” war in Libya. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon.”]
This November could be the first time in modern American history when the Republican nominee would be the relative “peace candidate” and the Democrat would be the “war candidate.” That changing places could lose Clinton much of the “anti-war left,” a significant faction within the Democratic coalition with many “peace Democrats” either voting for Trump or choosing a third party, such as the Greens.
Of course, the Democrats didn’t have to be in this position. The party leaders could have encouraged a more competitive primary contest instead of trying to keep alternative candidates, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and some younger Democratic prospects, on the sidelines, all the better to give Hillary Clinton an unimpeded path to the nomination. The party insiders treated Clinton like an incumbent president seeking reelection, a foregone conclusion.
But the best laid plans of mice and politicians often go astray. How weak Clinton is as a candidate has been underscored by her struggle to put away a progressive challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old “democratic socialist” from Vermont, who isn’t even technically a Democrat, listing himself as an Independent.
Even though the vast majority of “super-delegates” – i.e., party insiders – have lined up behind Clinton and she leads in pledged delegates, Sanders continues to win primaries, including recent ones in Indiana and West Virginia, and he could roll up a series of victories in upcoming western state races.
Clinton could stagger to the Democratic convention in July with a dispirited party lining up glumly to witness her long-delayed coronation. The onlookers might sense that they had made a terrible mistake but couldn’t correct it. They would be left to grit their teeth and hope that Clinton’s self-inflicted wounds, such as her private emails as Secretary of State, don’t fester and become fatal.
Arguably, it is the Democrats who would benefit the most from a contested convention, one that might give them an opportunity to reconsider the choice of Clinton and either nominate Sanders, who fares much better against Trump in poll match-ups, or pick someone else, possibly a fresh face like Sen. Warren.
While that may be highly unlikely – even if Sanders sweeps the remaining primaries – it is beginning to dawn on Democratic insiders that their scheme to grease the skids for a Clinton nomination might end up slipping Donald Trump into the White House.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).