June 21, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
In recent years it had been the Republican Presidential hopefuls who have had this problem. Faced during the a Primaries with opponents far to the right, they have had to allow themselves to be dragged right to win, only to find that they are then stuck with policy commitments that they can’t row back on, so the centrist swing voters can’t bring themselves to vote for them. Now, Hillary Clinton has the problem, (only from the left) and whilst she is unlikely to lose the primary it may, just may, lose her the 2016 U.S. election.
No better example of that than Mitt Romney, who before his challenge to Barack Obama in 2012 had very little track record of being anything other than a moderate Republican, having even introduced a form of ‘Obamacare’ (Obama’s controversial compulsory health insurance programme) when he had been Governor of Massachusetts. Faced with a line of Tea Party supported extreme right wingers such as Michelle Bachman (whose husband ran an organisation that aimed to ‘re-educate homosexuals’), Romney had to tack well to the right to win, and was then stuck there, leading to his clear loss.
Hillary Clinton, who had been assumed to be receiving a clear run to the Democrat nomination, is now faced with an insurgent challenger, Bernie Sanders, who is attacking her from so far to her left, and gaining so much traction, that she may end up with little choice but to tack similarly to the left in order to secure victory. Sanders, a 73 year old Senator, announced his candidacy in early May and, having been initially dismissed as a bit of a joke candidate, is being taken much more seriously now, given a recent poll in New Hampshire, one of the most vital Primary states, puts him on 30%, only 10% behind Clinton.
This should not in itself be a problem for Clinton, who has a formidable fund raising operation, great name -recognition, and a strong track record as Secretary of State. Despite the trauma of her losing a Primary Campaign against Barack Obama seven years ago Clinton may welcome being tested by a competent challenger so that she is ready and battle hardened for the actual Presidential contest against what could well be a very strong a Republican Challenger.
But Sanders is different. This is a man with a long track record of what in the USA can comfortably be called socialist leanings. This is a man who, on being elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, decided to develop a foreign policy, writing to the Premiers of China and Russia as well as President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher too to ask them to make peace with one another, and to the people of Nicaragua to express apologies for the Reagan Government’s behaviour towards them (the Presdient had been finding a covert guerrilla war against the left wing Sandinista Government). In the almost two months in which he has been campaigning, Sanders has been greeted by a constant stream of euphoria, his speeches constantly interrupted by standing ovations. His message might not seem controversial in this countrymen but in the USA it is unusual for a leading contender.
An example would be this segment of a speech in New Hampshire, reported by the Guardian: “Sanders spoke for an hour, railing against growing economic inequality, the corporate media, millionaires and billionaires, global warming, Barack Obama’s Pacific trade deal and the Iraq war. The Vermont senator promised equal pay for women, tuition-free colleges and universities, an equitable tax system, the right to healthcare for all, an expansion of social security for the elderly, and tough action against Wall Street banks.”
Sanders has refused to receive any funding from corporations, and also from so-called ‘Super-Pacs’ , which are supposedly independent organisations that are set up to support Presidential campaigns, and are far more prevalent since the 2010 ruling that allowed corporations to be classed as ‘people’, thus eligible for freedom of speech, which hence means the ability to unlimitedly fund Presidential campaigns, without having to be named as doing so. Instead, Sanders is soliciting individual donations, and has reported over 200,000 so far, averaging about $40 per person.
The key point to make here is that Sanders is highly different from Clinton, and is progressing every week as a legitimate challenger. At some point Clinton may have to respond to this by taking some policy positions that stop her leaking votes to Sanders. This may well work, but then she is stuck with those positions in the a presidential campaigns, and she faces then the same problem as Romney faced in 2012: The crucial swing voters in the ‘swing’ states like Ohio, who are likely to be centrist, could be having to decide whether to vote for platform that is more left-wing than they have voted for before. Which means she could lose.
What should Hillary do? Well, right now she needs to watch and wait. The actual Primary votes are not until January 2016. But the more support Bernie Sanders picks up, the more Hillary may get tempted.