Politics & Policy

Republicans Need an Answer to Hillary Clinton

Clinton at her campaign relaunch on June 13. (John Moore/Getty)

Just because she’s an uninspiring figure doesn’t mean she can’t win.

That calculation clearly underlay Hillary Clinton’s Roosevelt Island speech over the weekend. She hardly tried to inspire: Both the writing and the delivery were pedestrian, at best. What she did instead was outline liberal policies and celebrate the liberal coalition. The theory seems to be that those policies are sufficiently popular, and that coalition sufficiently large, that together they can bring her victory no matter how meager her political talent or how suspect her character.

The policies she listed are, in the main, destructive ones. There is little evidence that the federal government can improve children’s futures through universal preschool. A big increase in the minimum wage is likely to suppress job growth. Discrimination by employers is not the major cause of the pay gap between men and women, and thus policing that discrimination more will not do much to shrink the gap. Mandatory paid leave may worsen employment prospects for women. Further weakening immigration enforcement will inflame social tensions while cutting the wages of the working poor. Judging from the premium hikes insurers are requesting, maintaining Obamacare probably means watching its already unsatisfactory outcomes get worse.

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The Clinton campaign’s political judgment may nonetheless be right. Most of those policies have a lot of appeal, and all of them have some appeal — especially compared with the Republican agenda that Clinton made her foil, an agenda consisting of cutting taxes on the rich, deregulating Wall Street, and taking health insurance away from millions of Americans.

#related#To thwart her strategy, Republicans need an agenda that defies the caricature: that offers tax relief to middle-class families; that enables people to buy insurance by letting markets work; that provides young people with more and cheaper options for higher education; that makes businesses compete for customers rather than for government favors.

Hillary Clinton is betting that Republicans can’t, or won’t, campaign on such an agenda, that they won’t make the case that conservative principles can help Americans address their practical challenges. In this ever-enlarging Republican field, surely someone can prove her wrong. 

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