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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Clinton Too Engaged in Trying to Win GOP Moderates?

One of the more important debates emerging among Democrats is whether or not Hillary Clinton is banking too much on winning the support of GOP moderates. By appealing to them, is Clinton hurting the chances of Democratic candidates down-ballot and endangering potential Democratic majorities in the Senate and/or House? It’s a question which could decide whether the Supreme Court, as well as congress, will become a force for progressive change or deepening stagnation.

In his Salon.com post, “Hillary’s GOP outreach: Could it do more harm than good for Democrats?” Gary Legum asks whether  “Clinton’s outreach to some traditional Republican constituencies” could cost the Democrats the House and Senate. He cites a  USA Today/Suffolk University poll, which “suggests a bare majority of Hillary voters – 52 percent – are very or somewhat likely to split their ticket when they vote, punching their ballot for Clinton for president but a Republican for Congress. By contrast, a slight majority of Donald Trump supporters say they will vote straight Republican up and down the ballot”

However, “The biggest problem with Clinton’s outreach to Republicans,” explains Ed Kilgore in his New York Magazine article “Maybe Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Spend So Much Time Pursuing Republican Voters,” is that “it does not seem to be working, at least at the level of actual rank-and-file voters…There are relatively few signs in polling so far of significant crossover voting by either partisans or partisan-leaning independents.” Kilgore concludes that “Clinton’s outreach to them is risky and not really necessary.”

“In the heat of this year’s presidential battle,” Kilgore says, “taking the fight to the partisan enemy makes more sense than begging it to surrender.”

Ron Brownstein notes further, in The Atlantic: “In one respect, Democrats have helped Republican candidates to escape any Trump undertow. Although some individual Senate candidates have linked their opponents to the blustery nominee, Hillary Clinton has mostly chosen not to tie Trump to conservative thought but rather to define him as a fringe departure from it. Republicans are hopeful that will help conservative-leaning voters who can’t stomach Trump revert to their usual party loyalties in Senate races.” Brownstein adds that Republicans hope for ticket-splitting to check Democratic Senate and House candidates had “some success late in Bill Clinton’s 1996 victory.”

For Democrats, however, most of Trump’s policies are not so different from those of other Republican leaders. As Ed Kilgore explains, “While it is possible to argue, as Clinton regularly does, that Trump has “taken over” a Republican Party that was a different kind of elephant before he appeared, it is not so clear the takeover was hostile or accidental.”

At RealClear Politics, Caitlin Huey-Burns quotes Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who has argued, “You have Republicans up for re-election trying to run away from Trump as much as they can, so I think the smart move would be to lash them together to the extent possible to drag all of them down…The goal is to make the Republican Party as toxic as possible, to make it one big dumpster fire that they can’t run away from.”

Huey-Burns quotes former DNC official Luis Miranda: “We can’t give down ballot Republicans such an easy out. We can force them to own Trump and damage them more by pointing out that they’re just as bad on specific policies…” However, warns Huey-Burns, “Portraying all GOP candidates as racist or bigoted could turn off an electorate already exhausted by the tone and tenor of this campaign season and the divisive nature of the political system.”

Legum adds, “…Trump’s immigration speech on Wednesday should have removed any doubt about him for even the most clueless, disengaged voter. If that 70 minutes of bombast and flat-out fascism didn’t convince the last few remaining GOP holdouts that he would be far and away the most dangerous president in the history of the republic, then nothing will. If any Republicans are still going to support him out of some twisted sense of party loyalty, then there is nothing to be done.”

From a purely strategic point of view, Republicans who can’t stomach Trump’s brand of politics are either going to stay home, vote Libertarian  or vote for Clinton. There’s not much that Clinton can do, other than an excellent debate performance, to encourage them to vote for her.

In the wake of Trump’s blunder-riddled campaign leading up to Labor Day, most of his remaining Republican supporters are hard-core Hillary-haters, rigid ideologues or misguided ignoramuses, very few of whom can be considered persuadable.  To win the votes of whatever Republican moderates remain, Clinton should instead focus on the debates, which genuinely persuadable voters will be closely watching — along with everyone else.

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