Politics & Policy

A Trump Win Would Destroy Clinton’s Legacy — and Obama’s

President Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton in 2012. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

T #NeverTrump movement laments that a President Trump, with his authoritarian instincts, lack of interest in policy details, and populist demagoguery would be disastrous for the country. But there’s a silver lining, and an aspect that has largely been ignored by all-too-confident Democrats: A Trump victory in November would destroy the legacies of Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

Right now, Clinton is still the favorite to win the presidency. But the first general-election surveys are showing a sudden drop in Clinton’s once-huge polling lead. A Harvard poll finds Clinton ahead only 46 percent to 40 percent nationwide and 45 to 41 in swing states; Quinnipiac finds Clinton leading by one point in Florida, leading by one point in Pennsylvania, and trailing by two points in Ohio.

Trump has defeated one consistent conservative lawmaker after another in the GOP primary, and Democrats would be foolish to underestimate him. If it wasn’t obvious already, they have just as much to lose as Republicans in November.

Start with Clinton. On paper, she should be able to mop the floor with Trump. She’s experienced; he’s not. She knows and understands policy details; he makes it up as he goes along and contradicts himself frequently. She should be able to appeal to the African-Americans, Latinos, and Millennials, who propelled Obama to office; Trump’s numbers are toxic among those demographics. She starts with an Electoral College map heavily favorable to Democrats; he’s got to figure out how to win a bunch of states that Obama won twice, despite being literally the least popular, least liked, least trusted major-party presidential nominee in the history of polling.

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And yet there remains the possibility that Clinton could collapse. A Trump victory in November would affirm every criticism lobbed her way since she appeared on the national scene in 1992: too dishonest, too arrogant, too cold, too calculating, too out of touch, too vindictive for the American people. Democrats would suspect, with justification, that they dodged a bullet in 2008: If Clinton can’t beat Trump, how would she have fared against John McCain and Sarah Palin, even amid the economic meltdown?

If Trump wins, the recriminations against Clinton and her team will be brutal.

If Trump wins, the recriminations against Clinton and her team will be brutal. The idea that she could be the first woman president will be seen as a mass delusion, a grand, party-wide exercise in willful denial. Democrats are now given to softly worrying that “she’s just not as good a retail politician as her husband was.” The more honest truth would come out after a November loss: Her instincts are terrible. She plays it safe with focus-grouped pabulum and offers implausible lies when people call her on it. Her record as secretary of state offered no reason for inspiration or confidence. When faced with a garish, absurd opponent who generated broad, bipartisan fear, she offered only the soggy mush of the status quo. Democrats are trying to make themselves love her now; they’ll hate her if she loses.

Now contemplate Obama’s legacy if, on January 20, 2017, he’s looking on in barely suppressed disdain as the unlikeliest of figures places his (not at all too small, he insists) hand on a Bible declares, “I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.”

#share#Up until now, Obama has watched Trump’s rise with bemused disapproval. In his mind, Republicans have always been knuckle-dragging, shallow xenophobes, and Trump just represents a purer, less subtle version of the type. “What is happening in this primary is just a distillation of what’s been happening inside their party for more than a decade,” he chucked in March.

But Trump isn’t just playing in the Republican primary anymore. And if he’s competitive in November, or wins, it will be a loud, clear signal that Obama’s presidency largely failed. Eight years of his policies and leadership left Americans angry, disappointed, and frightened enough to be willing to roll the dice on Trump.

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The warning signs of bipartisan disillusionment with Obama have been visible in the past year if you know where to look; 42 percent of Democratic primary voters wouldn’t be supporting Bernie Sanders if they felt like Obama’s economic policies had worked for them. The “right track/wrong direction” numbers have been abysmal for Obama’s entire second term. A majority of Americans think their children will be worse off than they are.

How successful can Obama’s two terms be if Americans were willing to take a chance on an outsider who stands for everything he abhors? Obama took office optimistic despite the Great Recession he inherited. How would it look if eight years later he left the office to Trump, who has risen on the strength of a despairing, angry, bitterly divided electorate eager to “burn it down”?

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It would look like Obama left Americans with so little respect for the office of the presidency that they thought Trump could do the job.

After a Trump win, Democratic recriminations about Obama would flourish as well. His presidency would have been the story of the party’s slow, steady, painful fall from the heights of power to the depths of defeat.

#related#Trump’s populism and the bitterly divided GOP he now leads make it unclear whether he would have coattails for down-ticket Republicans. But a Clinton landslide would almost certainly make Chuck Schumer the new Senate Majority Leader, and a Trump win could keep the Senate in GOP hands. If the GOP keeps the Senate, they’ll keep the House as well. Merrick Garland’s fate would be sealed, and Trump could then make his own appointment to the Supreme Court with favorable odds for confirmation from a GOP-controlled Senate.

In short, if Clinton fumbles this race, her defeat could leave the Democrats with nothing — no presidency, no Senate majority, a House minority that doesn’t appear likely to grow until after the 2020 redistricting at the earliest, no replacement for Scalia, and a minority of governors and seats in state legislatures. The bench and farm teams would look pretty thin; the 74-year-old Sanders, 78-year-old Jerry Brown, and the 73-year-old Joe Biden aren’t coming back in 2020 to save the party. Who would step in and lead the Democrats? Julian Castro? Andrew Cuomo?

Trump’s rise has been brutally painful for conservative Republicans. His victory in November would be catastrophic for the Democratic party.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.


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