Politics & Policy

If Hillary Wins, What Should Conservatives Do?

Clinton campaigns in Reno, Nev., August 25, 2016. (Reuters photo: Aaron P. Bernstein)
A Clinton restoration will leave Americans looking for alternatives — will conservatives be ready?

A new Washington Post/ABC poll, released on Tuesday, shows that Hillary Clinton’s post-convention era of good feelings lasted approximately three weeks. Despite months of relentless media coverage of Donald Trump, his endless string of campaign calamities (including a weeklong spat with the family of a fallen American soldier), and the increasingly widespread view that Trump is a bigot — the worst thing you can be in American public life — the two candidates are about equally unpopular. He’s viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of registered voters; she’s at 59 percent.

Which is to say that, if Hillary Clinton is elected in November, she is in for a miserable four years. Because none of the sources of her unpopularity are going away.

First are the scandals. Ongoing litigation surrounding Clinton’s e-mails and her use of a private e-mail server would stretch into her first term in office, and is certain to yield further embarrassing revelations (like this week’s discovery that Clinton failed to turn over several e-mails related to the Benghazi attacks), and it was recently reported that field offices of the FBI are considering investigating the e-mail scandal in conjunction with various U.S. Attorneys’ offices. Even if those inquiries turned up nothing, their presence would continue to prompt questions about how seriously Clinton is taking security and transparency concerns as president (having spent her several years as secretary of state evading both). And, of course, looming over all of this will be the question of the Clinton Foundation. Given everything we know already about the way the Clinton Foundation operated during Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, could we trust that the foundation and her White House would be truly separate? Hillary Clinton’s presidency would almost inevitably sit under a cloud of suspicion.

POLL: Should Hillary Clinton Be Impeached?

That would be of her own making, of course. Voters’ sense that Hillary is untrustworthy is not a fluke. It’s the consequence of the years she has spent periphrasing and circumlocuting — and, yes, outright lying. That has only reinforced what was obvious to many from their first introduction to the Clintons in the early 1990s: She has always been determined to claw her way into the Oval Office, by sheer force of will. Ruthless calculation may be effective, but it’s not attractive. People may tolerate Hillary, but they won’t like her.

And she will not be able to distract from any of the above with good governance. She has said that she will be Barack Obama’s third term, and the policies she has proposed suggest as much. In response to years of economic stagnation, she will maintain or expand the bureaucratic “solutions” that in fact have helped to entrench problems. (It’s not unlikely that Clinton would have to preside over a second recession.) With the Democrats’ health-care monstrosity creating headaches for millions of people nationwide, she promises to strengthen its grip. As half the nation seethes over unconstitutional immigration directives, she promises to effectively abrogate American immigration law in toto. And she’ll divide, rather than reconcile, on race and guns and abortion and conscience rights and much else. Doubling down on the last eight years is certain to yield more of the same frustration and anger.

#related#None of this will be good for the country. But it does offer conservatives an opportunity. The time is now to come up with a comprehensive, positive agenda that presents a coherent and compelling alternative to the failed liberal agenda that, in 2020, will have held the day for a dozen years. Paul Ryan and the House Republican conference have tried to do this with their “Better Way” agenda, which offers an expansive, detailed agenda for six major areas: the economy, tax reform, health care, poverty and upward mobility, national security, and the Constitution. It’s this agenda, or something like it, that will be crucial if conservatives hope to seem more than a rump opposition. So will be a dedication to promoting this agenda beyond traditional Republican borders; a positive agenda needs to be pitched in Baltimore and Milwaukee, not just Orange County. And, finally, there must be leaders who understand how that agenda reflects conservative principles, and can articulate both as necessary.

This is a tall order, but hardly an impossible one, and if Donald Trump loses handily, as seems more and more likely, it will be a ready-made opportunity to reconstitute conservatism to address the needs of a larger and more diverse group of Americans.

Four years of Hillary Clinton will be enormously painful for conservatives. But millions of non-ideological Americans are going to be pained by it, too, and looking for an alternative. When 2020 rolls around, conservatives should have one to offer.

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