article

03.03.14

Republicans Better Mind the Modernity Gap To Catch Up to Clinton

Not only does Clinton have gay rights and a tech-savvy know-how on her side come 2016, but she’s even ahead among white voters—and the race is still two years away. Better catch up, Red or Blue’s got you beat!

The Republicans’ modernity gap and Hillary Clinton’s own ability to rally her troops were vividly displayed this past week. These twin forces stand to propel the former Secretary of State and First Lady back into the White House. The next presidential election may be more than two years away, but Clinton remains the one to beat.

First, the GOP’s modernity gap. Yes, I mean Arizona and gays. But the modernity gap also includes the gaping tech and analytics deficit that has plagued the Republicans since before the 2008 election.

As the result of a full court press by the American Airlines, Apple, Delta and others, Jan Brewer, Arizona’s Republican Governor, vetoed legislation that would have validated religion as a defense in the case of a defendant refusing to serve a same sex couple. Still, the fact that things got this out of control for the GOP signals the difficulty that the party will likely face in the high-end counties in 2016’s swing states. For Clinton and the Democrats, the cacophony out of Arizona is music to their ears.

To put things into perspective, just look at Ohio. In 2004, more than three-in-five Ohioans backed an amendment to the state’s constitution that barred same sex marriage. Fast forward, a recent Quinnipiac Poll shows that half the state supports same sex marriage, while 44 percent oppose it.

Back then, passage of the referendum helped power George W. Bush to reelection.  These days, women, younger voters, and Democrats overwhelming support gay marriage. Meanwhile, Ohio went for Obama twice, and the same Quinnipiac Poll also pegs Clinton ahead of all Republican challengers.

She even handily defeats John Kasich, Ohio’s incumbent Republican Governor, and if you can’t win your home state, why run? Just ask Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who lost their respective home states of Massachusetts and Wisconsin. 

As for the tech and analytics deficit, the GOP is still playing catch-up. The Republicans have called their in-house campaign tech start-up Para Bellum Labs. But where this venture goes remains an open question. And let’s face it, naming a tech initiative after a pistol used by the Germans in World War II is a tad too retro, and certainly does not augur well for Republican rebranding efforts. 

In contrast, Team Clinton has snagged Jim Messina, the tech savvy Obama 2012 campaign manager, and former Deputy White House Chief of Staff. Messina is becoming what Karl Rove was once, and more. For the record, Messina is a partner of Google’s Eric Schmidt, and is also advising British Prime Minister David Cameron, which should tell you how far right Silicon Valley perceives the GOP to be, as well as something about Messina’s own dexterity.

Sasha Issenberg, the politics and tech watcher summed-up the Republicans’ tech predicament this way, “With an eager pool of academic collaborators in political science, behavioral psychology, and economics linking up with curious political operatives and hacks, the left has birthed an unexpected subculture. It now contains a full-fledged electioneering intelligentsia, focused on integrating large-scale survey research with randomized experimental methods to isolate particular populations that can be moved by political contact.” In other words, the art of electioneering is stacked in favor of the Democrats.

The other piece of good news for Clinton is the steady stream of polls that show her as her party’s undisputed front runner, and the Republican field in disarray. CBS/New York Times reports more than 80 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents want Clinton to run in 2016. In contrast, little over two-fifths of Democrats would like to see Vice President Joe Biden to do the same, while independents are flat out hostile to the idea.  Meanwhile, a PPP poll of Iowa Democrats gives Clinton a commanding 50 point lead over Biden

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans are bracing for the Roller Derby Primaries. As Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Chair put it, it’s “a large field, like in 2012” and unlike 2012, there’s no front runner. Yes, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are well regarded by the party faithful. But the first nominating contests are still almost two years away.

So, does this mean that it’s smooth sailing for Clinton? Not exactly. There’s that thing called the past.

If Senator Paul is having a difficult time getting the public to refocus on Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Beyoncé is having no such problem. In her 2013 track “Yoncé/Partition”, the songstress uses the former intern’s last name as a graphic verbAnd then there are the recent document dumps which show no wrongdoing by Hillary, but which do portray Clinton as driven by expedience, in constant search of authenticity, and on a perpetual listening tour, but not quite hearing what people are saying.

Still, Clinton is more likable than she was in 2008, and has cleared the Democratic field. However, an even larger problem for the Republicans is that she stands to break the Republican grip on the white vote. Poll after poll after poll show Clinton as either barely lagging or ahead among white voters. 

By contrast, from 2000 onwards no Democrat—not Al Gore, not John Kerry, and not Barack Obama—has ever won more 43 percent of the white vote. Without a huge margin among white voters, whoever the Republicans nominate will lose, and without the white vote there’s little left to the GOP, except maybe a smattering of the Old Confederacy and the Mountain West. In 2016, modernity and Hillary may come with a high price for the Republicans.