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Week In Politics: Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign


For more on what this vote means and the week's politics, we turn to our regular Friday political commentators, E J Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hey there, E J.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

CORNISH: So we just heard Scott. President Obama went to the baseball game. He acted nice. He asked nicely and still he strikes out with his own party. Yes, that was - that pun was intended.

DIONNE: Nice baseball metaphor.

CORNISH: Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck (ph). E J, what is happening here?

DIONNE: Well, a couple of things. He probably should've gone to a few more baseball games in the past. There's been some sort of unhappiness among House Democrats about not really getting much of the president's time. And you can't just go to a group of people sort of when you're in trouble and say, I need you now. So that's part of it. A part of it is political leadership in both parties got a slap in the face 'cause the Republicans couldn't deliver the votes. Republican leaders who were as much for this as President Obama couldn't deliver the votes. But I think you have a lot to things going on here. This trade adjustment assistance for workers, a lot of Democrats thought it was inadequate, that the Senate hadn't put enough in. So that made it easier for them to vote against it, and they realized that everybody was counting on them to vote for it because Republicans just don't like it. They were overwhelmingly against it. And once that went down, this becomes very complicated. If you give more to workers, the Republicans aren't going to be crazy about it. They may abandon fast track. And if you don't do that, you're going to lose votes in the Senate, so it's very tricky. But I agree with Scott Horsley, that I think there's another act in this. I just don't know which - how they're going to pull it off.

CORNISH: And E J's pointing to one part of the bill, but this was part of a broader effort. The president's interested in expanding trade in Asia. David, does this end his hopes of adding to his legacy?

BROOKS: Hopefully it doesn't end it. If it did, I think it would be a catastrophe, just a moronic decision. This is not as big as the defeat of the League of Nations, but it's similar. It's obvious that Asia's going to be the center of the world economy in the 21st century, and building and architecture or trade and economic growth and political rivalries can be managed is central to that. And especially in the Pacific, that's what this would do. And the sad thing is - you know, we can have different arguments about trade or whether jobs are lost, jobs are gained when you reduce tariffs, but that's not what this does. That's what old trade bills did. Those tariffs are all basically gone. This was about intellectual property rights, this was about environmental standards, it was about services, where have a huge advantage. It was about restricting currency manipulation in state-owned businesses. This is a modern trade bill. And oddly, opponents are talking about this bill as if it's a trade measure from the 1980s or 1950s, having nothing to do with the substance of this particular piece of legislation.

DIONNE: I don't think that's how the opponents are looking at it. I think - first of all, a lot of Democrats are very torn because the best case for this is a foreign policy case, that we don't want China to be the only place writing the trade rules. We do want strong relations in Asia. That's the best case for this. But a lot of Democrats look at this and say, wait a minute, we passed these trade deals. There are a whole lot of Americans who are left out of the prosperity. Barney Frank said these things are really like collective bargainings. And I think for many opponents of this, the workers who might be hurt are just not getting enough back in compensation. And so I think there's a real torn mind inside the Democratic Party, and obviously some real divisions in the Republican Party too.

CORNISH: I want to explore that a little more because Hillary Clinton is going to hold her first big rally tomorrow on New York's Roosevelt Island, and this week it was reported that her campaign is looking to replicate the strategy that Barack Obama used to win the presidency - mobilizing young voters, non-white voters, women, a swath of very specific states. And is this realistic? We're dealing with a different candidate, but can you go after that same sliver of folks rather than going for, like, the swing voters, the independent voters in hostile states? David?

BROOKS: Well, I observed that all the previous first-term presidencies recently have been won by running center-out campaigns, whether it was Bush's compassionate-conservative or uniting and not dividing, whether it was Obama, who was sort of a transcendent character in '08, while Clinton is a new Democrat. People generally win elections from the center. And doing a base mobilization campaign strikes me as mistake politically 'cause I don't think you can generate those kind of things the way Barack Obama did. He was a unique character. It strikes me as a disaster, governmentally. Whoever the next president's going to be is going to have to somehow find a governing coalition that could win the House and 60 votes in the Senate. If you want to be guaranteed to be impossible to do that and have a president that's nonproductive then run on a base mobilization. And I have to say, building on the trade thing, it's now thrown in Hillary Clinton's court. She's historically been for this trade - sort of trade process. Is she going have the guts to stand up for what she's traditionally believed in?


DIONNE: Trade is going to be a challenge for her. It's one reason why one of her aides said, boy, I wish this would go away. But I think the notion that Hillary Clinton is running away from the center is laughable. What evidence do people have? Well, she's for gay marriage. Well, guess what? The whole country has moved in that direction. Country's about 3 to 2 for gay marriage. She's more populist about Wall Street. Well, after the economic crash, everybody - even Rick Perry is more populist about Wall Street. She's talking more about economic inequality. Well, again, Republic - all virtually all Democrats, most independents and even some Republicans care about that. And in terms of targeting states, all candidates target states. She is looking at an electoral map that is different from the one her husband looked at 33 years ago. Of course she's going to go after swing voters. It's just that she is running a little bit to the left of where we were on some issues because the country has moved to the left on those issues.

CORNISH: But in a way, I feel like that question is almost about was the Obama map some kind of fluke, right? Like, even though we're looking at a president who won two terms, I feel like there's an undercurrent here of, like, that somehow can't be replicated.

DIONNE: The Obama map is very much like the map and that elected Bill Clinton with a few states out. It's very much like the map that...

CORNISH: He had some southern ones.

DIONNE: In other words, that there are certain states that are pretty much out of reach. Bill Clinton didn't campaign much in North Dakota. There were a bunch of states he didn't contest. And so it's not - it wasn't the magic of Obama alone. She's going to have to make up perhaps for a lower turnout among African-Americans than Barack Obama was going to be able to generate. That means she is, I think, going to try to increase her share of the white working-class vote. But the maps are - don't change radically from election to election.

CORNISH: David, I want to give the last minute to you.

BROOKS: Well, I mean, E J may not think she's running a base mobilization campaign, but Democratic strategists all seem to. The Washington Post and The New York Times have both done stories on this, and are there scads of quotations from all the strategists saying, that's what we're doing, we don't think there are a lot of persuadable voters, we're just going to mobilize our people. And so, A, it's striking to me that the consultants now feel completely free to talk of their candidate as if she's a package that they're going to package and that she has no real convictions. If you're going to run a base mobilization campaign, don't say it. (Laughter). And, secondly, you know, that clear - it's a plausible strategy. There aren't as many persuadable independent voters as there used to be. I get it. But there are still a lot, and I think they're worth paying attention to.

DIONNE: And I agree that there are middle-ground voters who should be paid attention to, but some of the positions that people are saying are somehow left-wing, many of these positions appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. I don't think it's purely a base...

BROOKS: We'll see her on trade.

CORNISH: We'll see. You're going to have your chance tomorrow when she has her rally. E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thanks so much.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: David Brooks of The New York Times, have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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