Assuming Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee for president, I offer you something that will defy conventional wisdom at first but will provide Republicans a significant opportunity to win next November if they play their cards right. There is a narrative in the media that Clinton is nearly invincible—in fact some Republicans even want her to win! Consider the following exchange on MSNBC this week with veteran reporter Andrea Mitchell. Mitchell apparently has her finger on the pulse of Republican women, and she made this stunning declaration: There are many Republican women who secretly want to vote for Clinton and would do so without telling their husbands once they were safely inside the voting booth.
On air, Mitchell said: “You hear more and more anecdotally…I know you do, I do from Republican suburban women who may not even tell their spouses or partners, but you hear of this longing for a woman in the Oval Office…there really is a secret hidden vote there [for Clinton].”
I won’t speculate about the social circles Mitchell hangs out with in her spare time, but I socialize with many Republicans, and I’ve never had a wife tell me she secretly longed for Hillary to be in the Oval Office but wouldn’t tell their husband of their intent to vote for her. Of course, I’m a man, so I realize they might not tell me, at least if Mitchell’s theory is right. Nevertheless, over the last few days I reached out to several prominent Republican women in media and politics to read them Mitchell’s statement. I found the following illuminating.
One prominent woman in media told me: “I would never, and know not one single female associate, friend or family member, who would vote for a female candidate based on their gender; whether it’s Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton, Nikki Haley, or Elizabeth Warren. That is a sexist mindset, period.”
Continuing this line of thinking, a former colleague and fellow special assistant to George W. Bush offered: “Why would we vote for a woman just because she’s a woman? The candidate’s policy positions and record are far more important. That is as offensive as suggesting that you should have voted for President Obama only because he’s black.”
If there is a secret Republican women’s vote that will help steer Secretary Clinton to the Oval Office, I’m unaware of it. What I am aware of, however, is a significant chink in Clinton’s armor of invincibility both to her nomination as the Democratic standard bearer and her winning the presidency: blacks and younger millennials. If Republicans play their cards correctly and make meaningful inroads with these two groups, the GOP could shock the media and the Democratic establishment (often one and the same) by winning next November.
First, the Republican presidential wannabees would be wise to keep their finger on the pulse of the 18-29 age demographic that helped sweep President Obama into office. Clinton’s support there continues to sag. Twice a year, the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics, where I was a 2011 Resident Fellow, conducts a comprehensive poll to survey the mood of this key group.
In the most recent survey conducted last fall, support for President Obama and his policies continue to wane while interest in Republicans controlling Congress increased significantly over a similar poll conducted in the fall of 2010. For example, more than half of those students preferred that Republicans run Congress by 51 to 47 percent. That’s a big change from 2010, when Democratic control was preferred by a margin of 55 to 43 percent. Not hard to extrapolate that these numbers for congressional support for younger voters could be even more stark for Democrats next November.
I make this statement from a position of knowledge rather than drawing inferences from the polling data. The students I have been privileged to teach both at Harvard’s Institute of Politics as well as Georgetown have expressed to me their displeasure with the direction the country is headed. They are interested in traditional issues that favor Democrats such as climate change, same-sex marriage, and pay equality, each of which Clinton supports.
However, Republicans can seize upon the slight crack in the door Democrats have provided: My students are also quite concerned with the size of the federal debt as well as the sense that President Obama has over-reached with his use of executive orders.
More ominously for Clinton, the latest Institute of Politics poll showed a marked enthusiasm among likely young conservative voters to head to the polls and a lack of enthusiasm by younger Democrats. Republicans would be wise to capitalize on the opportunity to engage these younger voters via social media—the Harvard survey found this to be the preferred method of communications, with popularity shown on such platforms as Facebook and Snapchat with white voters and strong popularity with Twitter and Instagram among blacks.
The GOP field would also be wise to court a group of voters Clinton is likely to take for granted: African Americans. Phillip Klein wrote an interesting piece this week in the Washington Examiner in which he asked whether Clinton can hold together the Obama coalition. Blacks represent a huge opportunity for either party’s standard bearer. As Klein notes, “Between the time of Jimmy Carter’s victory over Gerald Ford and John Kerry’s loss to George W. Bush in 2004, Democrats won black votes by an average of nearly 75 points. But Obama won the group by 91 points in 2008 and 87 points in 2012.” Let’s cut to the chase: If Republicans make significant inroads in the black community, they are likely to win—regardless of their Democratic opponent. I would suggest they look to Ohio Governor John Kasich (my former boss), who won 86 out of 88 counties in Ohio in his 2014 reelection and wrapped up nearly 30 percent of the black vote.
Finally, let me address the invincibility factor of Clinton’s candidacy. Yes, the electoral college map seems to favor the putative Democratic nominee at this point. But recent polling by Dr. Ron Faucheux from the Clarus Research Group should be sending warning bells to Clinton.
In polling data released last week, Clinton is either tied or behind a handful of her potential Republican challengers. In Colorado, Faucheux found Clinton and former Governor Mike Huckabee tied with 41 percent each, while Marco Rubio and Scott Walker were edging Clinton by one point.
The same basic point holds for Clinton in Iowa. The point is that in key states such as Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia—states Clinton needs to win to head back to the White House—her approval ratings are less than 50 percent across the board. Should Republicans win these states along with Ohio and Florida, I don’t see a viable path for a Clinton victory.
Despite the cheerleading in the media and academia thus far, Hillary Clinton can be beaten in her quest to return the Clintons to the White House. Actions speak louder than words, and the time is now for Republicans to actively court groups previously ceded to the Democrats as both sides look to carve out 270 electoral college votes to win the presidency. Will the Republicans fight for votes with people of color and younger voters to get it right this time? Only time can tell but the bloom is off the rose of Clinton’s inevitable march to the presidency.