The Magazine

Not Ready for Hillary

Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By JAY COST
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This is the place for the Sister Souljah moment. The party has to find a way to signal to voters that, contrary to their expectations, the GOP will not govern as though it is in the pocket of corporate interests. That does not mean Republicans should embrace the Democratic party’s regulatory regime or buy into the false idea that one’s attitude to business is revealed exclusively by how many government agencies one creates to boss it around. After all, the Democrats do not simply regulate business, they subsidize it as well. Look at Obamacare’s individual mandate, a boon to insurers, or Dodd-Frank’s maintenance of “too big to fail,” a boon to big banks. Washington Democrats may spend half their time regulating business, but they spend the other half providing rents to businesses, at least those with high-powered lobbyists once employed by the Clinton administration.

The Republican party, unfortunately, is just as guilty of this sin as the Democratic party. What is called for, then, is an admission of the GOP’s past wrongs, a full-throated renunciation of the old practices, an unequivocal promise that a Republican administration will treat people equally, regardless of how much money they spend on lobbyists, and a reform agenda that seeks to embed these virtues in the law. All of this could be combined with an attack on the faux-populism of the Clintons; their folksy rhetoric has stood them in good stead for a generation, during which they have amassed an impressive record of clientelism that will make it difficult for them to counter a GOP assault on this front. 

Of course, this might not be enough to secure the Republicans’ prospects. An economic calamity would sink the standing of Barack Obama, the Democratic party, and the Clintons as well, in which case any reasonably qualified GOP nominee could probably win. Similarly, an economic boom might restore Obama’s reputation and render moot the entire GOP campaign, wafting Clinton into office on her predecessor’s coattails. But if the current state of affairs prevails—Obama is unpopular, but Democrats are united and Clinton remains detached from the incumbent in the public’s mind—the GOP should worry. This could produce something close to a 50-50 race, making the party’s message to the electorate of crucial importance. 

This is where a GOP reform agenda, proffered by the right sort of candidate, would be advantageous. The Clintons are formidable foes, and by 2016 they will have survived GOP attacks for 25 years. They know the Republican playbook inside out and have an answer for just about every attack the GOP is likely to launch. If the party wants to defeat them, it needs to throw the old strategies out the window and come up with something new. 

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