Hillary Clinton’s looming presidency
She would have been an odds-even prospect at best. Against Trump, she is the overwhelming favourite
Here is a very modest test of your imagination. It is December and Hillary Clinton is the president-elect. Not only did she beat Donald Trump but the Democrats retook the Senate and cut the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. The US is gearing up for a third Clinton White House — or is it a third Obama term? Moreover, she will start on very low expectations. Whatever she can squeeze out of a horribly poisoned environment will be a bonus.
Too much of a stretch? It should not be. Bernie Sanders’ emphatic caucus victories in Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii on Saturday night are a reminder that Mrs Clinton remains distrusted by much of her party’s base. But she is still firmly on course for the Democratic nomination. Moreover, most senior Republicans have all but written off the next White House. Their goal in 2016 is damage limitation. If Mr Trump wins a majority of
delegates, they will have to hold their noses and live with him. But most would prefer to be defeated with Ted Cruz on the ticket.
To say there is no love lost between Mr Cruz and his colleagues is an understatement . But that is not the point. Either Mr Trump or Mr Cruz would go down to Mrs Clinton in November.
Only Mr Cruz would keep the Republican Party intact. Furthermore, unlike Mr Trump, Mr Cruz is a conventional, if extreme, ideologue. His defeat would dispel the myth that Republicans keep losing because they fail to choose true conservatives. The scene would be set for someone like Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, to recapture the White House in 2020.
Mr Trump has been a household name in New York since the late 1970s when he began to play the local tabloids. Mrs Clinton has been a national figure since 1992, when she first came to attention as the Arkansas governor’s ambitious wife. The “vast rightwing conspiracy” against Mrs Clinton has been up and running for more than two decades. The string of Trumpian nightclub photo-ops goes back four decades. Mr Trump would be the first nominee whose spouse, Melania, has posed nude in a magazine. That would be a first for a prospective First Lady. Mrs Clinton would be the first nominee whose husband has had sexual encounters in the Oval Office. Could you invent this?
In truth, Mrs Clinton will be blessed in her opponent. In any other situation, she would have entered the 2016 election as an odds-even prospect at best. With Mr Trump, she is the overwhelming favourite. Fifty-six per cent of Americans disapprove of Mrs Clinton — and an even larger share distrust her. No one has ever made it to the White House with negative trust numbers. But luck is on her side. Among a field of candidates with higher ratings than Mrs Clinton, Republicans have singled out the only one whose numbers are far worse. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Mr Trump. Moreover, women disapprove of him by far larger margins. Since women vote in higher numbers than men (even angry white men), this ought to doom Mr Trump’s chances.
For Mrs Clinton, the most critical number is Mr Obama’s approval rating. This has been creeping up steadily for the past few months and now hovers at around 50 per cent. If it stays there, Mrs Clinton is set fair. It will dictate that she ensures there will be no crack of daylight between her and the sitting president before November 8. There are many areas, most notably foreign policy, where Mrs Clinton differs with Mr Obama . She has a more activist vision of US diplomacy and would have fewer qualms about asserting military power in Syria and elsewhere. She has said she does not want her grandchildren to grow up in a China-dominated world.
But all that can wait until January. Mr Obama is itching to campaign on Mrs Clinton’s behalf — and she will need his help to bring out the African Americans, the Hispanics, the young and the progressives. As I say, it will be a vicious battle that will bring little credit to democracy.
Mrs Clinton still lacks a coherent message and most Americans distrust her. A large minority hates her. Mr Trump will channel that raw sentiment. Long after he has been defeated — and the spectre of a Trump administration dispelled — his army of supporters will live on. That genie is out of the bottle. Mrs Clinton will finally have achieved her ambition. But the age of extreme incivility will be only just beginning.