ESSAY- Hillary in '08: Flying generically to a win
The Republican Party appears to be coalescing around the happy assumption that, while Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, she cannot be elected. So– the self-delusive logic says– she's really God's gift to the Republican Party.
This optimistic set of assumptions comes through loud and clear in the comments the president and Karl Rove made to Bill Sammon as he interviewed them for his new book, Strategery. But their confidence indicates simply that they don't even begin to understand what they will be up against in a Hillary candidacy.
It has always been Mrs. Clinton's strategy to wrap herself in the generic. By embracing a set of liberal issues, she avoids personal scrutiny. By identifying with working women who are "trying to balance career and family" she buys a pass on charges of a conflict of interest over Rose Law Firm representation of Arkansas while her husband was governor. And now, by hiding behind the generic question of "Are we ready for a woman president?" she dodges the question of whether we want this particular woman in the Oval Office.
The cultural forces that Hillary's candidacy will unleash– from the media, from Hollywood, and from the cultural icons who decree our lifestyles– will go far beyond those that normally line up behind a presidential candidate. A small foretaste emerged in ABC TV's show Commander in Chief, in which Geena Davis plays a female president who masters the men and the crises that litter her path. What other presidential candidacy was foreshadowed by a prime-time, hour-long weekly television show?
Hillary's candidacy will not be Democratic so much as demographic, and not nearly as political as cultural. The pent-up emotions of half of America will rise to the surface just as Catholics rallied to JFK's candidacy in 1960.
And white women are the swing vote in our politics. George W. Bush carried them by only 1 percent in 2000 and lost the popular vote. He walked away with white women in 2004 by a 14-point margin and carried the electorate by 3.5 points.
White men will vote against Hillary, of course, but are they likely to exceed the 2-1 margin by which they backed Bush in 2004? Or is the GOP organization really going to be able to turn out more than 62 million voters– an increase of 12 million over its 2000 total– with very little increase in national population?
Blacks will vote for Hillary with genuine affection rather than the mere duty that animated their support for John Kerry, and Hispanics, who strongly backed Hillary in New York state, are likely to return to the overwhelmingly Democratic vote they cast in 2000, rather than the more balanced ballots they cast in 2004.
In the face of these demographic arguments, can Hillary's admittedly brittle public performances assure her defeat? Will voters see through her posture of moderation and hawkishness on terrorism? White men will. But white women won't. And Hillary will be elected.
Last year, my wife and I wrote about the urgency of a Condoleezza Rice candidacy to nullify Hillary's advantages. Since then, Rice, despite her best efforts to deny a candidacy, has caught fire among the American electorate. In the most recent Gallup poll, 12 percent named her, unaided, as the Republican they would like to see run, and the most up-to-date head-to-head poll, by the Marist Institute, shows her locked in a three-way tie with Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, with each candidate winning 22 percent of the Republican primary vote.
Those who listen to the melodious tones of Bush and Rove do a disservice to our country. The threat of a Hillary Clinton victory is real and present, and the usual suspects– the likes of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Virginia Sen. George Allen, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, New York Gov. George Pataki et al. are not likely to be able to defeat her. Rudy could, but he won't be nominated because of his social liberalism. McCain could, but he lacks popularity with the GOP rank-and-file.
Do not underestimate Hillary Clinton's chances to win!
Dick Morris is a former political consultant to President Clinton, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), Vincente Fox, and other political figures. This essay originally appeared in The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly paper.