By Brent Budowsky - 08/13/14 05:30 PM EDT
Democrats face potentially catastrophic midterm elections that could leave Republicans and conservatives in control of the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court. Yet while Democrats face a political state of emergency, Hillary Clinton this week launched an aggressive preemptive attack — not against Republicans but against Barack Obama, the Democratic president she served as secretary of State, employing lines of attack eerily reminiscent of attacks against Democrats from former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Clinton has been running for president for almost a decade. What is striking today is how little she appears to have thought through WHY she would run and HOW she would campaign. Throughout 2014 she has been dogged by self-created controversies about her paid speeches to banks and universities, whether she needed the money because she was “dirt poor,” whether she is out of touch with working people, and now her ill-timed and disastrously executed criticisms of Obama in her Atlantic interview.
Politically, Clinton’s prime directive for 2014 should have been to use her considerable intellect to devise substantial policies for income equality in the spirit of the most profound and popular public figure of our age, Pope Francis, and to go all out to save the Democratic Senate in the midterm elections.
If Clinton does not relish the prospect of being investigated for the next two years by what I have called the Republican house of inquisitions, she might ponder the pleasantries of being investigated as well by the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a GOP-controlled Senate wielding the partisan power of the gavel and subpoena. Democrats — above all, Clinton — must clearly understand they face a dire state of political emergency.
In a recent CBS poll, voters favor Democrats over Republicans 41 percent to 37 percent, but enthusiastic voters favor Republicans 47 percent to 40 percent. In short, Democrats move from plus 4 to minus 7, losing 11 points because GOP voter enthusiasm now overwhelms Democratic voter enthusiasm.
Consider Senate campaign polling from Real Clear Politics, which today mostly tabulates polls from registered voters, not likely voters. If we add 11 points per race, or even 5, to Republican numbers when polls shift to likely voters, the mortal danger to Democrats becomes alarming.
Clinton should have spent all of 2014 working hard to support Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn in Georgia. She has not. For the first eight months of 2014, Hillary Clinton has done virtually nothing to save the Democratic Senate. Now, her piling on criticism of Obama, whose unpopularity in red states is already a grave danger for Democrats, only helps the GOP cause.
Even more damaging to Democrats, and self-destructive for Clinton, is that her line of attack against Obama in the Atlantic interview wields national security arguments against Obama usually aimed against Democrats by Dick Cheney, neoconservatives and hyperpartisan Republicans.
Clinton’s talking points against Obama gives Republicans ammunition against Democrats, drives Obama’s negatives higher, divides Democrats against one another, alienates many liberals from Clinton, and further depresses Democrats when the party desperately needs dramatically increased enthusiasm, not new Democratic divisions and deeper Democratic depression that will keep more Democratic voters home in November.
Republicans rejoice and Democrats are appalled when Clinton is praised by Newt Gingrich for attacking Obama for policies devised when Democrat Clinton was Democrat Obama’s secretary of State.
Hillary Clinton should distinguish herself from President Obama. I would not recommend her using neoconservative-sounding arguments, which remind a vast and unenthusiastic Democratic base of her six years of support for Bush 43’s Iraq war and her penchant for political calculation, to promote her candidacy for president. But whatever case she makes should be made AFTER this year’s midterm elections, not before.
Clinton should stop all criticism of Obama and any Democrat, concentrate aggressively on saving the Democratic Senate, ask Ready for Hillary to spend ALL its cash on hand to support Senate and House Democrats, and develop inspiring programs for income equality and other issues vital to voters.
I support Hillary Clinton and hope she becomes the next Democratic FDR or JFK. But make no mistake: this week she hurt Democrats by firing her cannons in the wrong direction at the worst possible time.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.