I hope some of Hillary Clinton’s strategy team is planning for a landslide, because everyone agrees that nobody knows what could happen. With the right plan, it won’t matter whether the landslide occurs. The specter of a landslide could suffice.
Her campaign should seize on this universal uncertainty to assemble the governing majority she’ll need to succeed after she’s elected.
In September, when voters begin getting serious, she should release a list of five bills that will top her legislative agenda in 2017, with a promise to add five more in October.
Like the Contract With America, Clinton would be calling on legislators to sign on to her agenda. But unlike Gingrich’s campaign, she would present the program as post-partisan, welcoming frightened Republican lawmakers into the fold. In fact, they would be her primary audience.
If a legislative agenda can get passed with Republicans who worried that Clinton’s coattails could have swept them out of office, that would be better for the country and the president than any scorched-earth effort to exclude Republicans from the agenda.
In the past, this could never have been done during a campaign season because both parties — but especially the Republicans — value discipline and reward loyalty. Those values are clearly losing their grip on candidates, but also on voters.
After this election, who knows what being a Republican will even mean? And if the major political party duopoly ends for the first time since the Whigs were a factor, what will it mean to be a Democrat?
With a healthy dash of magnanimity, Clinton can portray herself to voters as a policy wonk first, and a party loyalist second. Indeed, party discipline was a means to an end. She must convince the country the outcome she values most is not party dominance, but actually getting things done.
The last Democrat to enter the Oval Office without a majority in both houses of Congress was Grover Cleveland in 1885. Each of the eight Democratic presidents since started his first term with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. In recent years, that unanimity of leadership has been lost in two years or less. Clinton’s goal should be for it to matter less.
Democrats need 30 seats to flip in the House of Representatives to regain a legislative majority there. The Senate is more within reach, but less valuable without a House majority to accompany it.
Clinton stands a better chance by welcoming political adversaries as governing partners. Voter have taken every recent opportunity to express disgust with Washington, DC. They may not agree whether it’s the federal government’s inaction and overreach, but they’re near unanimous about wanting to see change. A post-partisan governing coalition would address both ends of the political spectrum.
Republican leaders normally would pressure candidates to hew the party line, but that line has gotten awfully squiggly in Donald Trump’s hand. If Clinton reaches out her hand to embattled Republican Congressional candidates, it may begin to look like a life line. Her pledge to them would be only to hold her fire against them, and to say publicly that she can work with either candidate.
If September brings Clinton a couple dozen Republicans to her coalition campaign, October can be spent raising the stakes with additional legislative initiatives being added each week.
Republican candidates who signed on will be boxed in. Will they still support the program’s first five agenda items or renege on their signed pledge? Once they’ve agreed to work with the opposing party, they can’t publicly blanch at the rising price. Not without inviting the focused fury of the Democratic machine in the final weeks of the campaign.
Voters seem to be signaling that their deepest desire is to see government begin working for them again. Backing away from a post-partisan Contract With America, even over issues the voters may be ambivalent about, would be very risky.
But that almost shouldn’t matter to Clinton. As Gingrich showed in 1995, when your personality is less than winsome, keeping the focus on governance will please voters more than if they look too closely at you.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) blogs at www.dksez.com.