The Hillary Clinton of 2000 would have beaten Donald Trump
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It was a sunny day on Daniel Moynihan’s farm in July 1999 when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcGrath reshuffles campaign in home stretch to Senate election Appeals court blocks Hillary Clinton deposition on private email server What Biden must do to keep his lead and win MORE first launched her own political career and months later she would officially announce her candidacy for the U.S. Senate as a New Democrat. She extolled the values of “opportunity, community, responsibility and enterprise.”

In her announcement, Hillary backed a balanced budget, investments in education, welfare reform, tougher child support measures, more police and even teacher testing. She stressed the need for new jobs for New York and for continued economic progress. 


She launched a campaign that was aimed at the largely Republican working class voters of upstate New York. It's central promise was that no child should have to leave their hometown to find a good job. 

She explained that the way to overcome the march of technology and globalization was to modernize the region for the 21st century. It was the kind of optimistic view of the future and the economy that got Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHas Congress captured Russia policy? What Biden must do to keep his lead and win Ocasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech MORE elected in 1992.

This message drove her to a hard-fought victory against Rick Lazio despite a record setting spend of over $50 million by the Republicans just to keep her out of politics. Looking back, she accomplished a reverse Trump. She courted and won Republican leaning working class voters in economically depressed areas of the state. She became their champion. 

In the Senate, Hillary was a work horse, not a show horse; she gained the reputation as someone who rolled up her sleeves and worked across the aisle with senators like Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator draws fire from all sides on Biden, Obama-era probes Has Congress captured Russia policy? Graham on Harris: 'No issue' as to whether 'she is an American citizen' MORE and others. She went on to a landslide re-election in 2006.

She did vote for the Iraq war and that vote became a liability in Iowa in 2008. But it was a sincere vote taken only after consulting with national security officials from the Clinton administration who also believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

She defended rather than apologized for her vote in 2008, willing to pay a political price for standing by her principles and decisions. Partially as a result of that, she was universally seen as the leader who could answer the 3 am call — someone ready to be the next commander in chief.

Now let’s fast forward to the Hillary of 2016. Gone were references to the basic values of a limited government. Gone were proposals for teacher testing and more cops. She apologized for her Iraq vote; her national security resume now relied on her sitting in the situation room during the raid on Osama bin Laden, hardly an act of political courage.

She opposed the very trade deals she negotiated, called in effect for single payer health care and made no bones about proposing to raise taxes $1.5 trillion. Confronted with a challenge from the left, she made her peace with them by agreeing to back the most “progressive” agenda in the democratic party’s history. Even President Clinton’s crime bill was thrown overboard.

Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Obama speechwriter Favreau: 'Hilarious' some media outlets calling Harris a moderate Trump to counter DNC with travel to swing states Progressives look to flex their muscle in next Congress after primary wins MORE was a tough opponent, but he was no Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMcGrath reshuffles campaign in home stretch to Senate election The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump hedges with Post Office funding | Harris speaks with 19th | An apology of sorts in Massachusetts Jared Kushner denies Trump 'promoting' questions about Kamala Harris MORE. She could have defeated him without the fade to the left that brought cries of inauthenticity and underscored her weaknesses. Few believed she was against TPP and her shift leftward didn't win her many of the caucuses she lost in 2008.  African Americans, who were out of reach in 2008, came home to her in 2016, and their votes were not based on ideology but on the Clintons’ long history of helping their communities. 

In the general election, she abandoned the vital center and instead ran as a continuation of President Obama, wrongly believing that the country wanted a third term. While some polling dubiously placed Obama’s approval rating as high as 55%, nearly every poll showed 60 to 70 per cent saying the country was headed in the wrong direction. 

Her closing campaign picture in Philadelphia said it all — she stood together with President Clinton, President Obama and Hollywood stars. An entire closing weekend surrounded by Hollywood and the past.

America is a centrist country. Only 26 per cent of the voters in the exit polls classify themselves as liberals and the other 74% are moderates and conservatives. By moving to the left, the Democratic Party has increasingly isolated itself and lost voters at all levels of government from the state houses to now the White House. The last time the party became this isolated, Bill Clinton ran as a “different kind of Democrat.”

If the 2016 race teaches us anything, it is that a shift to the left will not bring in working class voters in rural and economically depressed areas. They think that such a shift would be a reversion to more government spending at their expense, and not produce the jobs and prosperity they need. 

Of course there were obstacles like FBI director Comey and Wikileaks that made the race much harder, though Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUPS, FedEx shut down calls to handle mail-in ballots, warn of 'significant' problems: report Controversial GOP Georgia candidate attempts to distance from QAnon Trump orders TikTok parent company to sell US assets within 90 days MORE faced “Access Hollywood” and 11 or more women accusing him of abuse. Still, there were more fundamental forces at work.

The Hillary Clinton of 2000, even with a basement email server, would have handily defeated Donald Trump. The forgotten voters would have rallied behind her and a path forward based on “opportunity, community, responsibility and enterprise.” That is where the winning future of the party lies as well.

Mark Penn was the chief strategist and pollster for Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection and for Hillary Clinton in 2000, 2006 and 2008.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.