After her victories in Ohio and Texas, Hillary Clinton may believe that a few weeks of tough Clintonian politics will win her the presidency. That would be a mistake. Even successful political hardball in the primaries could split the Democrats and make it difficult for Clinton to win in November. Conversely, by remaining nice she could win even by losing—and enjoy two decades as one of the Democrats’ top Senate powers.
Clinton’s latest victories were won fair and square. Her focus on Barack Obama’s Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement) double-dealing with Canada dented his halo on a legitimate policy issue, while her “3am” advertising campaign played to the public’s greatest doubt about a president Obama—his experience. If Obama leaves openings for hard-hitting policy criticisms, and Clinton takes advantage of them, his supporters will have no legitimate grounds for sitting out November’s contest if he loses.
If the race remains close, Clinton may decide to play rough. But dragging out juicy titbits of bad behaviour from Obama’s early life flirts with racial politics, and could poison Democratic relations with African-Americans. And a protracted battle would probably result in her party descending further into protectionism, populism and economic illiteracy.
Also, if she successfully leverages her party clout to obtain delegates from her phoney victories in Michigan and Florida, which under party rules were not properly contested, it would worsen the Clinton family’s reputation for sharp practices and could alienate moderate voters. A victory obtained by such means would be empty; John McCain appeals strongly to independents and will be no pushover in November.
But if Clinton plays nice, she has a bright future ahead, even if she loses the White House.
She now has nearly eight years of Senate seniority. If she remains in favour with her colleagues, she will ascend to the chairmanship of a major committee within a few years, assuming the Democrats retain control of the Senate. She could also be a strong candidate to succeed Harry Reid as Senate majority leader, but that would require the enthusiastic support of her party colleagues. With a safe seat and probably 20-plus years of public life ahead, a collegial, well-respected Clinton could enjoy enormous power to design and implement the policies she believes in.