Politics & Policy

Democrats Might Rue Their Attempt to Coronate Hillary

The Clintons celebrate at a rally in Des Moines after the caucuses. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

If Hillary Clinton were in an actual horse race, she’d be at the glue factory today.

Consider: In an effectively two-way race for the Democratic nomination, the former first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state — vanquisher of the patriarchy, shatterer of glass ceilings, modeler of pants suits — earned less than half the vote against a 74-year-old, Marxist incarnation of Waldorf from The Muppets, who, when he’s not wondering where penguins buy their tuxedos, is pitching a package of free stuff so outlandish that it would cost every American taxpayer at least 11 percent of his income. Joe Biden is ripping out his hair plugs.

The Democrats could learn a lesson from all this.

Iowa was supposed to be about the Republicans, of course. Hormonal conservatives were supposed to go head-over-heels for Donald Trump’s perpetual pucker, proving once and for all that they are paranoid racists who believe that we should round up and deport anyone who eats an empanada. That didn’t happen. Instead, Iowa conservatives turned out in record numbers to vote against Trump, putting Ted Cruz in first place and Marco Rubio in a very close third. Trump is now, as he himself would say, a loser, sandwiched between the two wings of tea-party conservatism. His candidacy is far from over (assuming he doesn’t drop out), but Tuesday night’s results revise the Republican-primary plotline and restore to the spectacle a patina of sanity.

RELATED: Hillary Did Not Win Last Night

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary is evenly split between Lady Macbeth of Chappaqua and Larry David.

How did this happen? It’s simple: On the right, there was a contest; on the left, there was a coronation. Republicans gave their voters options; Democrats gave their voters an order.

#share#For the last three years, the entire work of the Democratic party has been to ensure the smooth, graceful ascension of Hillary Clinton to the presidency. It’s “her turn.” Toward this end, the party machine has trudged, unenthusiastically but inexorably, grinding down every obstacle in its path by force of sheer inertia. Those obstacles included viable primary challengers: Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo.

For Democrats the tensions in the party have never been more obvious or more alarming.

Yet, over that same period, the Democratic coalition has fractured and the center of gravity has moved decidedly leftward, thanks largely to a younger generation of liberals animated by the impulses of the Occupy movement rather than the Vietnam protest movement. The Clinton-style rapprochement with free markets is noxious to young Democrats. They want to skin some fat cats. Bernie Sanders might not be the most compelling candidate, but he’s been hating the rich since Hillary was a Goldwater Girl.

Still, the Democratic party has made clear throughout the primary season that it is not interested in giving this wing of its own electorate a hearing (see: the DNC debate schedule, if you can find it). In the short term, this may not be a problem. It’s unlikely that Sanders will secure the nomination, even if he handily wins next week’s contest in New Hampshire, and many of his voters are sure to fall in line for Hillary. But in the long term, much of the party’s base will seethe with resentment.

#related#Republicans might deal better with their intra-party insurgency. Assuming that Trump does not win the nomination, his candidacy will have diminished the intensity of his constituency by giving them an outlet for their frustrations. And the party, not eager to see another Trump-style candidate take hold, will probably take seriously the several legitimate grievances that his rise has highlighted. Tuesday night’s caucus suggests that conservatives could absorb the best of this populist uprising and temper its worst excesses.

For Democrats, though, the tensions in the party have never been more obvious or more alarming. The most dedicated primary voters are rebellious and will support Hillary in the general election only begrudgingly, if at all.

Hillary Clinton won last night. Technically.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.

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