Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Time-Tested Campaign Strategy: Smear Republicans as Haters

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Hillary Clinton had one of the worst campaign rollouts in living memory. Her low-key (to the point of inaudibility) announcement video came in the midst of a months-long period of deeply damaging stories about her mania for secrecy (the private e-mail server), which she indulged even at the expense of the law and national security, and her cavalier acceptance of favors in the form of donations to the Clinton Foundation.

As these stories mounted, Clinton seemed oddly disengaged. She neither answered questions nor attempted to change the subject. Some Republicans began to get smug. “She’s a terrible candidate,” they said (your humble columnist may even have let these words slip herself). “She doesn’t have the skills of her husband,” they said, even predicting that “this woman will never be president of the United States.”

This week, Clinton demonstrated that Republicans should wipe the smiles off their faces. On Saturday, June 13, she’ll deliver a do-over of the announcement speech, and if it’s anything like the talk she delivered at Texas Southern University, it will be fierce and effective.

The Texas speech, tartly described by Democratic strategist Doug Schoen as a “clean hit” on her Republican opponents (meaning all upside and no downside for the candidate), was dishonest and divisive. She denounced the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision, falsely claiming that it invalidated laws permitting ballots to be translated into languages other than English. She implied that the decision, along with voter-ID laws passed by a number of states, are intended to suppress voting by African Americans and other minorities. Hans von Spakovsky, writing in National Review Online, points out that minority voting is up even in states with voter-ID laws — and why shouldn’t it be? Voter-ID laws prevent only non-citizens from voting.

Clinton’s task is to solidify the base that elected Obama twice. She has the woman angle, and for some identity-politics fans, that’s a big advantage. As for the rest of the Democratic electorate – Hispanics, other minorities, the young, the single, government employees, union members, and African-Americans – it’s less clear that her XX chromosomes can do the trick, particularly after eight years of a Democratic president. Even some African Americans, the Washington Post reports, are feeling disillusioned. A 23-year-old Jacksonville, Florida grocery clerk, noting the economic torpor of her neighborhood, told the paper, “What was the point? We made history, but I don’t see change.”

Clinton is deploying the “They Hate You” strategy that has worked well for Democrats for decades. Policy is almost irrelevant; the point is to convince key groups to turn out in large numbers for Democrats because they’ve been persuaded that Republicans are haters.

Clinton is deploying the ‘They Hate You’ strategy that has worked well for Democrats for decades.

Quoting the late Barbara Jordan, Clinton told the black audience, “She famously reminded us that when the Constitution was written it left most of us here out. But generations of Americans fought, marched, organized, and prayed to expand the circle of freedom and opportunity. We should be clearing the way for more people to vote, not putting up every roadblock anyone can imagine.” Note the word “us.” Multimillionaire international celebrity Hillary Clinton claims membership in an oppressed class due to her sex.

Republicans often let this sort of thing go, scarcely bothering to contest the libels because they figure the black vote is lost anyway. Rand Paul and a few others have broken this mold, though in Paul’s case, only to pander.

Republicans can deny that voter-ID laws are about voter suppression till they bore everyone into a coma. It won’t have an impact. But that doesn’t mean they should surrender. What they should be concerned about is not any particular issue but rather their image as the party of haters.

I would love to see all of the Republican candidates staging multiple events in places like Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland. They should be asking what Hillary Clinton proposes to do about improving the climate for small business. They should demand to know what Democrats have done to improve the schools — or rather, draw attention to the fact that Democrats stand in the way of improving education for poor kids. They should demand accountability for the millions of taxpayer dollars intended for poor families that wind up in the pockets of the well-connected and the well-heeled, while praising the work of churches and other private groups. The shame of the cities belongs squarely in the Democrats’ laps.

Even if it doesn’t yield a single new African-American voter, it’s worth doing for two reasons: (1) because it will improve the image of the Republican party, and (2) because it’s right.

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