Democrats have a real problem on their hands. The (overwhelming) frontrunner and (so far) presumptive nominee for their party’s nomination for President is embroiled in controversy and scandal, is now losing to several Republicans in head-to-head match-ups, and is distrusted by a large majority of Americans, including Democrats themselves. How did the party get to this point?
Part of the party’s problem is that it really didn’t have much of a credible alternative to nominating Hillary Clinton. Beginning in 2010, Republicans began winning incredibly important statewide positions such as governorships and senate seats that could have been used by Democrats to launch a national campaign. Democrats now hold only 19 governorships and 46 senate seats, and the large majority of those members have little-to-no national profile.
Six months ago, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem, however. For years it had been assumed that Hillary would run for President, and more like the way the Republican Party once chose its nominee, Democrats were deferential to Clinton, feeling as though it was her turn. After all, she was still viewed favorably by a majority of Americans, and it appeared as though she held a monolithic bloc of support among Democrats for the nomination.
In essence, Clinton has spent the last few years boxing out other Democrats from jumping in or even considering joining the race to become President. The ‘inevitability’ card didn’t work for Hillary in 2008, but that was largely due to the fact that Democrats had a very large bench and a formidable challenger in Barack Obama. But Hillaryland was confident the same would not happen in 2016, largely due to the aforementioned reasons.
But now Democrats are (or should be) regretting allowing this to happen. With each passing day comes a new story detailing Clinton’s woes caused by her email scandal. And it isn’t just coming from conservative news sites, as Hillary would like us all to believe. Some of the worst news has come from sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, and even the Obama administration, as its Justice Department and FBI are now investigating if there was any wrongdoing.
Even if it magically turns out that Clinton did nothing wrong (and that is appearing increasingly unlikely), Democrats should not nominate this flawed candidate. This has nothing to do with ideology; in fact, on most major issues, Hillary’s views are smack-dab in the middle of where the rest of the Democratic Party is. In fact, she’s rarely broken with President Obama on any major or minor policy issue.
The issue lies with her trustworthiness, or lack thereof. Americans deserve a President whom they can trust. They deserve an election between two candidates for whom they want to vote. Americans don’t want to vote for “the lesser of two evils”, as I have heard it put numerous times.
If Hillary Clinton is chosen as the Democrats’ nominee, their party will likely lose next November. Despite the circus that is the current Republican primary, the GOP will likely nominate a credible candidate. And while his or her views may not end up aligning with the majority of Americans’ views, the public will still likely choose that Republican, because he or she will be viewed as more honest and trustworthy.
So what options do Democrats have? For starters, there are the candidates currently declared to be running: Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. Obviously, at this point, Sanders is the only challenger to Clinton who has more than one or two percent of support from Democratic voters (he is currently averaging 25% in the RCP poll of polls).
Bernie certainly has the enthusiastic support of many Democrats. His rallies are the largest of any candidate, Democrat or Republican, and they are even rivaling the size of President Obama’s. Sanders has held consistent liberal beliefs and has even attracted support from those normally disaffected with politics. It is possible, like Obama before him, he could bring in and attract new voters and independents.
However, Sander’s own liberal views could be his downfall in a general election. Whether his supporters want to admit it or not, his self-described socialist label will likely turn off more independents than it will attract. His positions are much more liberal than the country as a whole, and it is unlikely he would survive a general election. Further, his age would make him the oldest President ever elected. In the past six elections, Americans have always elected the younger of the two candidates.
Then we have Martin O’Malley. On paper, O’Malley seems like an ideal alternative to Clinton. He has eight years of executive experience as Maryland’s Governor, and before that he was mayor of Baltimore. As Governor, he championed liberal causes like ending the death penalty, legalizing gay marriage, and raising the minimum wage, among others. He is relatively young and energetic and, fairly or not, looks like he could be a President.
But O’Malley isn’t catching fire anywhere, largely due to the fact that Clinton and Sanders have sucked up all the oxygen in the media. October’s debate will be the first chance for O’Malley to truly show his skills and ideas when matched up against the other two, but so far, he doesn’t have a national organization that would be ready to turn increased support into actual votes.
Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee are both in a category even lower than O’Malley. Webb is likely much too conservative for the Democratic base. And while he would likely be a good general election candidate (former Senator from Virginia, a swing state; a decorated former navy veteran; fairly blunt-spoken), he is not a good primary election candidate. Chafee has been a Republican and Independent before recently switching to the Democratic Party. While his views align with most Democratic voters, he has zero national profile and has terrible politicking skills.
Which leads us to any other candidates who haven’t yet declared. Vice President Biden is the most obvious choice. He clearly has the experience necessary to become President. His views align well with the Democratic base and are often more liberal than even Obama’s. Unlike most candidates who would jump into the race at this late stage, Biden would likely be able to raise the money and organization to at least compete nationally by the time the primaries are under way.
Biden’s main problem is that he wouldn’t be seen as a change candidate in an election that will likely want just that. Any Democrat will have trouble making the case that they are not just another four more years of Obama’s Presidency, but for Obama’s VP, that case would be nearly impossible to make.
Should Biden decide to run, he would need to decide immediately. It will take time for the organization to be built and the funds raised. More importantly, it will take time for Democrats to realize that Hillary is vulnerable and that Biden is a much more credible alternative.
There aren’t many other options left for Democrats. Elizabeth Warren, once thought to be a true challenger to Clinton, has ruled out running, and it seems as though she will stick to that. In any case, if she jumped in now, she would likely just split the more liberal vote that is already supporting Sanders. Al Gore is also unlikely to decide to run, and he wouldn’t be a great candidate for Democrats anyway.
Are Democrats now stuck with Clinton? Not necessarily. But they need to realize quickly that her problems are not going to go away, and will only likely get worse. Democrats should stop supporting Clinton now in the hope that she will either drop out or that someone else will be able to start gaining traction.