The Election’s Lesson for Democrats: Don’t Nominate Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton speaks during the Women In The World Summit in New York City, April 13, 2018. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters )
The rest will mostly take care of itself.

Political consultant Mark Penn wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Hillary Clinton not only will run for president again, but will prevail. He writes: “Mrs. Clinton has a 75% approval rating among Democrats, an unfinished mission to be the first female president, and a personal grievance against Mr. Trump, whose supporters pilloried her with chants of ‘Lock her up!’ This must be avenged.”

Actually, it doesn’t. Not if Democrats want to keep winning.

The slow-motion blue wave happened. At least in the House. Moderate Democrats did well in the lower chamber, though Senate moderates who hailed from deep-red states and voted against Brett Kavanaugh fared less well. Progressives hopefuls lost in the 2018 elections, especially statewide, but they really came within a hair’s breadth in states such as Georgia and Florida. In the end, Democrats ended up with more House seats than had been expected on Election Day, and Republicans with fewer Senate seats than they projected.

Commentators have been drawing lessons from these results: Namely, that Democrats can reverse Trump’s electoral gains for the GOP, and that they can do so by focusing on bread-and-butter economic issues. The old Democratic campaign hits such as “Republicans will take away your health care” still work.

But the most obvious lesson for Democrats is this: Just don’t nominate Hillary Clinton. And you’ll probably do fine.

Recall that the 2016 presidential election featured the two least popular major-party nominees in modern history. Two years later, Republicans remain stuck with Trump, but Democrats have been able to put Clinton out of mind. The result is that Trump’s Republican party is losing territory and vote share, and Democrats are gaining. The Republican party has suffered losses throughout the Midwest and Rust Belt. And increased defections in the suburbs around Oklahoma City, Dallas, Boulder, and Phoenix should have Republicans looking at the formerly red parts of the national map and wondering how to defend them.

There is no substantial argument for making Hillary Clinton the nominee. She has won three political contests in her life. She beat Rick Lazio for Senate in New York. She beat a Yonkers mayor for the same seat again. And then she beat Bernie Sanders in 2016, with the generous support of Democratic superdelegates who practically doomed his chances. She has never won a competitive race in her life, and odds are that she never will.

Hillary Clinton has two talents as a candidate. She’s good at emptying the pockets of big Democratic donors, and she unites Republicans. If she has any legacy, it is that she helped push her husband as president and her party to embrace the wine-track voters. And Democrats won all of the 20 richest congressional districts in 2018. Jacobin writer Matt Karp laments that Democrats won 42 of the 50 richest districts, hardly a recipe for a Democrat-controlled government with a broad mandate for social democratic change.

But the fact is that the election results showed a path where a Democratic candidate who doesn’t insult large swaths of the country as “deplorable” can win all of Hillary’s states while adding Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and possibly North Carolina to their haul.

There are lots of things Hillary Clinton has messed up in her life. Her 1993 health-care push, which contributed to a Republican takeover of the House. Her vote for the Iraq War, which led to her defeat in the 2008 Democratic primary. The “smart power” intervention in Libya, which led to ISIS getting a foothold in the Mediterranean and exacerbated the migration crisis in Europe. She shouldn’t get a do-over on those. Nor, if they want to win, should Democrats give her another chance to be their party’s candidate for president.

Hillary Clinton isn’t owed anything. She’s become much richer than anyone who was such a consistent failure in public life should be.

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