Defeating Hillary Clinton Would Have to Be a Team Effort

Ross Douthat makes the case that the disintegration of Iraq and the general chaos in the Middle East might scramble our political categories. We might see Hillary Clinton running as a relatively interventionist presumptive Democratic nominee and thereby make it easier for Rand Paul to run as a noninterventionist Republican.

While it is always dangerous to project forward from present trends, I don’t see why the chaos in Iraq and withdrawal from Afghanistan should not create space for a less interventionist candidate within the Democratic primary electorate. These would be people who thought that both the Iraq War and the Afghan surge were bad ideas (though the latter might have been worth trying) and that they want their Democrats to be less rather than more interventionist.

But just because there is a constituency for something doesn’t mean it will be mobilized. Several factors would have to come together to make this left-noninterventionism politically salient:

1. Someone would have to make the case that Clinton was way too interventionist to be trusted with the presidency. They would have to make the case against her on the Iraq War, on the Afghan surge, and on Syria. Someone has to make Clinton the candidate of war everlasting.

2. Someone has to find a way to make a vote against Clinton into a vote for Obama. There is just no way that the voters who show up for Democratic caucuses and primaries are going to vote to repudiate Obama — or, rather, the only circumstances where hard core Democrats turn on Obama are circumstances where the identity of the Democratic nominee wouldn’t matter since things would be so bad that virtually any Republican would be able to beat any Democrat.

The problem is that no individual Democratic candidate can do both of those things at the same time. Brian Schweitzer has the desire to do the first but his anti-Obama spiel would have destroyed his chances to actually get the nomination even if he hadn’t recently beclowned himself with his comments about Eric Cantor and Diane Feinstein.

Joe Biden might be able to do the second and stand in as the less interventionist face of the Obama administration, but he is not in a good position to make the case against Clinton. He voted for the Iraq War and, even where he differed from Clinton on matters of administration policy, Obama’s vice president is in an awkward position when it comes to making the case against the foreign policy preferences of Obama’s first secretary of state. Clinton and Obama can take shots at each other, but they probably have to keep it very subtle and subtle won’t bring Clinton down.

But Schweitzer and Biden together could get pretty far. Schweitzer is very, very unlikely to get the nomination, but he could make a name for himself as the candidate of outspoken nonintervention and economic left-populism. There are benefits to just getting people’s attention even if you get nowhere close to the nomination. Schweitzer ’s obvious target would be Clinton. Biden could make himself the candidate who is both identified with Obama and associated with the less interventionist elements of Obama’s policies. Schweitzer could remind people why they shouldn’t vote for Clinton while Biden could be the vessel for voters who want to avoid voting for Clinton while still casting a ballot for a symbolic third Obama term.