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Something Clinton This Way Comes

Will the GOP be ready?

Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By JAY COST
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In the immediate aftermath, many Republicans were pleased that the results were as close as they were, but a loss is a loss. They allowed a third-rate Clinton impersonator to defeat them with a playbook that has been in operation for a generation. By now, one would think that Republicans would have come up with a good answer to the charge of extremism, or that they would have successfully shown the voters the rank hypocrisy that the “party of the people” displays by milking special interests for all they’re worth to run ads against special interests. But, alas, one would be wrong.

That should be a sobering fact, because the Democrats look set to nominate a second-rate Clinton impersonator (his wife) in three years who will assuredly run the Clinton playbook once again. She’ll go up to Wall Street and, nudge-nudge-wink-wink, reassure the country’s economic barons in so many words that, indeed, all will be fine in a second Clinton presidency. Goldman Sachs boss Lloyd Blankfein has already signaled he’ll be on Team Hillary, so she will not even have to work very hard at this. Then she will use Goldman Sachs money to convince the country that her opponent will hand the government over to Goldman Sachs. And, of course, she’ll apply a healthy dollop of fearmongering over birth control, abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and any other cultural hot-button issues she can think of to persuade voters that the Republican nominee is the bane of all that is right and good.

Are the Republicans ready for this? By the looks of the Virginia gubernatorial race—not to mention four out of the last six presidential elections—the answer appears to be no. But maybe they can get ready.

Farther up the Acela Corridor, in New Jersey, the results hold promise for the GOP. The Democratic playbook is as predictable as it is (usually) effective, yet it failed utterly in the deep-blue Garden State. In fact, the failure was foreseen so long ago that the Democrats did not even try to forestall it. Their nominee, Barbara Buono, was left to twist in the wind and complain bitterly about how her party had abandoned her to a 60-38 shellacking from Republican governor Chris Christie. 

That goes to show that the old one-two punch of people-versus-the-powerful and cultural demagoguery just does not work on certain candidates, those whose mere presence somehow reveals the entire schtick to be as vacuous as it truly is. Christie is just that sort of Republican. He is pro-life, but nobody was ever going to tag him as a dangerous Holy Roller. He went after the labor unions with vigor, but Democrats did not even try to tag him as an enemy of the common man. He has his fair share of friends at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, but he never gives the impression that he’s in their pocket. The Democrats could have given Buono $50 million to run the Clinton playbook against Christie, and she still would have lost.

Those are the sorts of qualities the Republican nominee must have to take on Clintonism in three years’ time. But that is not to say Christie is the man for the job, at least not yet. His problem is that—so far—he looks to be a divisive figure within his own party. Many conservatives are suspicious of him. Whether their reasons are legitimate or not is beside the point. One of the (many) causes of Cuccinelli’s failure in Virginia was that his own coalition was divided between the “grassroots” (who loved him) and the “establishment” (who did not). This sort of division, if taken into 2016, will prove crippling. Alienate the grassroots, and watch the base stay home. Alienate the establishment, and watch the big-money donors withdraw. The party must find a candidate who not only is immune to Clintonism, but also does not exacerbate existing divisions within the GOP coalition. All hands will have to be on deck in 2016.

Whether Christie is that candidate is still to be seen. A lot of questions remain. Can he reassure the base? Can he appeal not simply to the Northeast, but also the Midwest, where elections are won and lost? Can he stand up to Clintonism when it is actually being administered by a Clinton and funded by half a billion dollars (or more)? 

It is too soon to say. At the least, we can conclude that last week’s elections imply promise and peril for conservatives in the years ahead.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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