We’re down to one final month before the start of the 2016 presidential primaries. The contest, for both parties, has now become a chess match rather than a race. There is little new ground to be covered and we are now approaching a zero-sum game. With a dozen Republicans and three Democrats vying for the Oval Office, virtually every adult American can find a candidate to support. Policy proposals have been made, debated, rebutted, and defended.
Now that all the proposals have been aired, it is time for jousting ahead of the vote-casting. As Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton remains atop the polls, she has been increasingly targeted by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump has recently accused Clinton of sexism and disparaged her husband, former president Bill Clinton, for his alleged philandering. With Hillary Clinton expected to put Bill on the stump in January, hoping to appeal to voters who enjoyed the booming ’90s economy during Bill’s two terms in office (1993-2000), Trump is seizing the opportunity to lump Bill and Hillary together and re-acquaint the public with Bill’s scandals.
Though Bill Clinton may be a powerful campaigner, there are considerable risks to putting him on the stump. With Hillary Clinton still fighting the notion that she is untrustworthy, it may not be the best idea to bring her cheating husband, who was the second U.S. president to be impeached, onstage. Bill may have been popular, but he was not quite a paragon of integrity. Parading Bill on the stump may signal to voters that Hillary is willing to embrace a bit of fast-and-loose-with-the-rules…confirming what many of her critics have trumpeted all along.
Putting Bill Clinton onstage with Hillary may also bring up charges of nepotism and attempts to create a monarch-esque dynasty. This imagery would clash considerably with Clinton’s attempts to move to the political left and paint herself as a fighter for the middle-class family. The Clinton power couple may rankle voters who want their presidents drawn from the ranks of individual achievers. A power couple display may also remind voters, especially Clinton critics, that Hillary Clinton did not exactly rise up through the political ranks on her own…but was installed as a U.S. Senator (D-NY) with the support of the Democratic establishment and her husband’s presidential administration.
Unless voters are willing to link Bill Clinton’s political prowess and economic good fortune with Hillary, putting Bill on the stump may prove to be a net loss for the Clinton campaign.
Donald Trump appears to be seizing the opportunity to link Bill and Hillary together and is embarking on an anti-Bill offensive. Though Trump is hardly immune from any of his own accusations against Bill Clinton, given his own alleged philandering and multiple marriages, he may increase his support among angry conservatives by showing that he is willing to take the fight to the Clintons. Trump’s innumerable flaws and gaffes, ranging from his quadruple bankruptcies to his offensive language, seem to have done little to minimize his support. Republican voters want a fighter, not a Boy Scout, and Trump’s hypocritical attacks on Bill Clinton give the voters what they want.
Conservatives appear to want some mud to be slung, and Trump is the GOP candidate most willing to do the slinging, both against the Clintons and against fellow Republican presidential candidates.
If Hillary Clinton takes the bait and tries to sling back, the month of January could devolve into a battle royale between the Clintons and several of the Republican presidential candidates. During this pre-Iowa rumble, policy proposals will be replaced by identity politics and personal attacks. Instead of informing voters of how their respective policies can benefit them, candidates will focus on tearing down their opponents. As the Clintons lash out against Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, who eagerly return volley, Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders stands to score a major opening.
Sanders, who has struggled to rise in the polls against the machinations of both the biased Democratic National Committee and the pro-Clinton media, has realized that he is unlikely to sway many devout Clinton supporters to his side. Instead, Sanders is focusing on picking up independent voters and populist conservatives. Sanders has wisely realized that many lower- and middle-class conservatives are within his grasp, standing to benefit greatly from his policy proposals and enjoying his reputation for humility and integrity.
The self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont may use January to win over many right-leaning moderates and independents from the camps of Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson. These voters tend to be critics of the major party duopoly, Washington insiders, and political doublespeak. Bernie Sanders offers plainspoken, populist leadership…and those who feel Trump is too radical may jump the fence between Republican and Democrat and align with Sanders.
If a heated battle brews between Trump and Clinton, look for Sanders to reap the benefits, perhaps more from disillusioned Trump supporters than from Clinton’s camp. If a fading Ben Carson finally folds in January, Sanders stands to garner even more disillusioned voters who seek integrity and a Washington outsider. By staying out of the fray and appealing to both liberal and conservative populists, Sanders will look like the one true grown-up on the political stage. #FeelTheBern