Brooklyn, we have a problem.
Largely the result of her own doing, Hillary Clinton is mired in a candidacy-threatening scandal that could reshape the Democratic primary race in the short term and undermine her chances of getting the nomination in the long term.
It’s not going to be enough just to simply say that other secretaries of state have used private email accounts. It will also not be enough to have spokesman after spokesman say that it was not against State Department regulations at the time she did it or that she didn’t send any material that was classified at the time she sent or received it.
Clinton is also facing a continued decline in her poll numbers, with the new Quinnipiac survey showing that in hypothetical general election matchups with Trump, Bush, and Rubio, Vice President Joe Biden polls better than Clinton does. What’s more, Biden has a 48 percent favorability rating as compared to 39 percent for Clinton. And while 76 percent of Democrats still approve of Clinton, there is no doubt that her campaign is facing a steep challenge.
What Clinton is going to need to do is to change the subject and develop a public policy agenda that goes beyond what she has said thus far, which is arguably nothing more than trying to move to the left to block Bernie Sanders’s now seemingly inexorable rise nationally, and especially, in New Hampshire.
The first order of business is a centrist agenda that plays on the dissatisfaction that exists generally in America but to offer something more than redistribution, higher taxes, and a newfound anger at Wall Street. Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with taking part of the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren agenda. But if that is the whole campaign message, it will inevitably fail as voters seek the real thing, not the light version.
Being all things to all people means that Clinton needs an all-inclusive broad agenda—not a narrow agenda—wherein she puts the emphasis on growth front and center. She needs to focus on integrating economic policies and tax policies that support and enhance growth, not simply supporting and enhancing redistribution of wealth.
The next president will be expected to get our economy back on a healthy and sustainable footing, with GDP growth, job creation, and re-integration of workers missing from the labor market as the core criteria for success. Prioritizing pro-growth trade that ensures protections for intellectual property and creates the necessary conditions for U.S. competitiveness are must-haves as the global economic picture remains highly uncertain. We saw how critical this is to Democrat voters during the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.
There needs to be a Clinton doctrine in foreign policy other then silent acquiescence to Obama’s agenda. We need muscular militarism tailored to the concerns of voters, which is that we be smart and effective in using U.S. power and not necessarily counter our adversaries whether they be in Eastern or Central Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere.
When it comes to health care, Clinton needs to release a detailed plan for how she will go about amending the Affordable Care Act. Fortunately, there are a number of provisions that resonate with Democrats (as well as many Republicans), including restricting insurance companies from discriminating based upon pre-existing conditions and keeping kids on their parents’ plan until their 26th birthday. State efforts to expand Medicaid—while unpopular among Republicans—will be broadly supported in a general election campaign. As will protecting successful programs like Medicare Part D that consistently earn over 85 percent satisfaction ratings in surveys.
However, Clinton would be wise to get ahead of a troubling trend as it relates to insurance company consolidation, which runs directly counter to the intent and promise of the ACA. Increasingly, a number of growing concerns exist among Democrats and Republicans, including the ongoing likelihood of reduced marketplace competition, limited consumer choice, and the real probability that insurers could become so big that they’re considered “too big to fail.”
More importantly, this evolved system threatens to pose daily difficulties to patients seeking care options (unfortunately, it is already happening en masse). While I’ve long believed that the law is flawed, it did include “Patient Protection” as part of the name, and Democrats need to make it better, not worse. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Sanders or a future left-leaning candidate begins to raise concerns about the administration’s closeness with insurance providers, which will put Clinton on the defensive if she doesn’t get in front of it.
While necessary, focusing on public policy doesn’t take away from the need for Clinton to provide a transparent and candid explanation of her decision to maintain a private email server as secretary of state. Assuming this happens, the next step will be to define a first-term agenda that wins over skeptical Democrats while laying the groundwork for a highly-contentious general election campaign.
The next few months will make or break Clinton’s candidacy. If she doesn’t solidify support by advancing the right policy ideas now, it could very well be the latter.