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January 16th, 2017

Insight

Dems' divisions will need healing, too

Albert Hunt

By Albert Hunt Bloomberg View

Published April 26, 2016

 Dems' divisions will need healing, too

Sen. Sherrod Brown is a relatively accessible fellow, but when he was recently about a request for an interview on the subject of the schisms in his Democratic Party, his schedule was full. Instead, he sent along a banal statement that the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders presidential primary battle was strengthening the party in contrast with the "divisive" Republican fight.

He's right about the Republicans. The personal invective and policy splits threaten to tear the party apart and produce an electoral cataclysm in November.

Yet that is camouflaging serious problems on the Democratic side: deep divisions on policy and an almost certain nominee, Clinton, who if not for Donald Trump would be the most unpopular leading presidential candidate in recent times.

The differences between Clinton and Sanders are more pronounced than those between Barack Obama and Clinton in 2008. Then, there were modest divergences on health care and national security, highlighted by her support five years earlier for George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Mainly it was a difference of style and persona, a new voice in a change environment running against a candidate focused on recapturing the salad days of the last Democratic administration.

This time - on major economic issues, taxes, health care and regulating Wall Street - the gaps are much wider. On national security, too, as Clinton hasn't much moderated her interventionist bent: She was a leading advocate for the 2011 military action in Libya. The aftermath of the invasion turned out disastrously and Obama has expressed regrets. She hasn't.

Party platforms are window dressing but can be politically symbolic. It's hard to see how the Clinton forces can accommodate Sanders's demands for breaking up the big banks, free college tuition and staying out of Syria.

Yet if she is the Democratic nominee, she'll need the Sanders followers in the autumn. She would be making a mistake to take them for granted and rely on Trump's unpopularity. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll voters view him unfavorably, 65 percent to 24 percent, the highest negatives for a national political figure that the pollster Peter Hart has ever seen.

If it weren't for Trump, however, the story would be about Clinton's negatives. In the same survey she was viewed unfavorably, 56 percent to 32 percent. She does poorly among some of Sanders's core supporters, young people and independents.

If Sen. Ted Cruz becomes the Republican nominee, there'll be a fierce ideological battle, with both sides working to energize the base. Trump or Cruz can be counted on to raise sensitive issues, ignored by Sanders, such as potential problems involving the Clinton Foundation, which has accepted huge donations from wealthy donors as well as big contributions from foreign interests.

Clinton has said that the Clinton Foundation would continue to operate if she is elected president.

Clinton's backers say she has more cards than her opponents. If, for instance, there is a foreign policy crisis during the fall campaign, many voters give her good marks for knowledge and experience. By contrast, in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey last week, by more than 3 to 1, voters said they lacked confidence in Trump's ability to deal with an international crisis.

She can send a message with a vice-presidential choice. To be sure, such chatter now is purely conjectural. At this stage in previous elections, Sarah Palin, Geraldine Ferraro and Dick Cheney - all eventually tapped - weren't even on the radar screen.

But several people who talk to Clinton think she would be comfortable with Senator Tim Kaine, a mature moderate who was a successful governor of Virginia, a swing state. She has been intrigued, they say, with the notion of picking another woman; Sen. Elizabeth Warren would excite the base.

There is little chemistry between them, however, and if she still wanted to play to the Sanders folk, a more palatable alternative might be the liberal Sen. Brown, which may help explain why he didn't want to talk last week.


Previously:
04/21/15: Candidates, please stop whining
04/19/15: 2016's Other Big Question Mark
04/14/15: Rivals should be in cahoots to stump Trump
03/07/15: Hillary's hubris still could trip her
02/24/15: Free trade is bipartisan target in 2016 election
02/19/15: On Planet Clinton, where everyone's a critic
02/09/15: Questions for Bernie Sanders' establishment guy
02/03/15: From steadfast Iowa to contrarian New Hampshire
02/01/15: Bush's journey from front-runner to straggler
01/27/15: Another election, more phony promises on taxes
01/19/15: How Cruz supporters differ from Trump fans
12/23/15: Why Trump and Cruz aren't Forbes or Cain
12/21/15: Speaker Ryan sails through the easy part
11/25/15: As the GOP candidates emerge Hillary's weaknesses will be revealed
11/05/15: OK, candidates: Ask the questions yourselves. Seriously
10/28/15: Imagine an endgame of Cruz vs. Rubio
10/26/15:Ted Cruz has a Ben Carson problem in Iowa
10/20/15: Will Paul Ryan follow James Polk's playbook?
10/20/15: If only Trey Gowdy could meet with Sam Ervin
10/13/15: Voters don't like revisiting the trials and tribulations of Clintonland --- but that doesn't mean Hillary can't win
09/23/15: Why Jimmy Carter couldn't win the South today
09/17/15: Gov. John Kasich's standout record in Ohio
09/03/15: Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump
08/31/15: Here's how Biden-Warren sort of makes sense
08/28/15:Trump upends New Hampshire's substantive tradition
08/26/15:Jeb Bush is hugging the wrong president George
08/24/15: Underestimating Ted Cruz? That's a mistake
08/19/15: US holds steady in a world of economic trouble
08/12/15: Who will capture Iowa conservatives after Trump?
08/10/15: Debate fireworks that won’t make much impact
07/29/15: A plea for conservatives to speak from the heart
07/09/15: Ex-Im Bank's undeserved rap for crony capitalism
06/24/15: All presidential candidates should be in debates
06/03/15: Foreign policy traps await Republicans and Hillary
06/01/15: It's small stuff that wrecks presidential runs
02/04/15: Can Walker be president without a college degree?

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Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News, directing coverage of the Washington bureau. Hunt hosts the weekly television show "Political Capital with Al Hunt." In his four decades at the Wall Street Journal, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor, and wrote the weekly column "Politics & People." Hunt also directed the Journal's polls, was president of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and a board member of the Ottaway community newspapers. He was a panelist on the CNN programs "The Capital Gang" and "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He is co-author of books on U.S. elections by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.

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