Peter Franklin: Don’t write off the possibility of Hillary Clinton re-running for President

17 Jan

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

With so much going on at home, Brits may be forgiven for not noticing the political crisis brewing in America. Nevertheless, last week was almost as bad for Joe Biden as it was for Boris Johnson.

The leader of the free world is coming to resemble that most pathetic of creatures: the first-term lame duck President. Of course, there was always a risk of that. At 79, Biden is by far the oldest person to have occupied the Oval Office. Running for re-election and completing a second term would mean carrying on until he’s 86.

However, it’s not infirmity that looks like dooming the Biden administration, but unpopularity. Last week a Quinnipiac poll recorded a new low — an approval rating of just 33 per cent. That’s lower than at the same stage of Donald Trump’s Presidency. It should be said that Biden does a bit better with other pollsters, but not by much.

There are multiple reasons for what has gone so wrong so fast: the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan; the ongoing Covid crisis; and inflation like Americans haven’t seen in decades. Biden is also having trouble getting his agenda through Congress. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were elected as Democrats, but on key measures they’ve sided with the Republicans.

Things could go from bad to worse. The mid-term elections coming up later this year could produce Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. That could mean complete legislative gridlock and the confirmation of Biden’s lame duck status.

Still, never mind. At least the old stager’s had his last hurrah. Instead of running again in 2024, he could retire gracefully and everyone would understand. He could simply pass the baton to his much younger Vice President. Kamala Harris is ready-and-waiting to become America’s first female President.

Sounds like a plan. Except there’s one tiny problem with it: Harris is unpopular too. She’s not a calamitous Veep like, say, Dan Quayle; it’s just that voters don’t like her. I think it was Bob Monkhouse who quipped “people like sincerity — and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.” Whether for good or ill, Harris can’t fake sincerity. In fact, she’s hampered by an inability to communicate any sort of emotion without it sounding forced.

She’s a poor campaigner too. Her attempt to win the 2020 Democratic nomination went badly. She was monstered in one of the early debates by Tulsi Gabbard — and withdrew not long after. Luckily for her, the eventual nominee Biden was determined to pick a woman as a running mate and she got the nod. And thus she found herself one heartbeat away from the Presidency.

But for how much longer? Even if Biden runs again in 2024 there’s talk of dropping Harris from the ticket. The idea would be to nominate her to the Supreme Court, while he finds a more popular running mate. If, on the other hand, Biden doesn’t run again, then the Democratic nomination is likely to be contested — and Harris can’t count on a coronation.

Let’s not forget that the current favourite for the Republican nomination is Donald J Trump. Should that remain the case, then the Democrats will be desperate to stop his comeback. If that means dropping a persistently unpopular President and Vice President, then they’d be stupid not to.

And yet that would place the Dems in a difficult position. Holding on to the White House without either the incumbent President or Vice President isn’t easy. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 1928 when Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge — and those, of course, were Republicans.

In 2024, the Dems would have to stand before the American people and say “sorry about the previous President and VP, folks — they were hopeless, but please vote for us again.”

There’s also the risk that, in an open race for the nomination, a candidate from the so-called “progressive” wing of the party might win. The nightmare nominee is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who’ll be old enough to run next time). The Congresswoman may be an ultra-woke firebrand, but she’s popular with the party’s rising generation of millennial activists.

So, in the absence of Biden and Harris, the Democratic establishment would need to pull a really big name out of the hat. Big enough, in fact, to distract voter attention from the party’s disarray and to bulldoze any challenge from the Left.

But who? Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week, Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein make the case for Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton — the one who lost against Trump in 2016. They can’t be serious, can they?

Well, there is a case. First, instead of scrabbling around for some obscure Governor or junior member of the Biden administration, the party could put forward a household name. Second, she’s a woman — which would erase the embarrassment of sidelining the first female Vice President. And third, there’s the delicious prospect (for Democrats) of righting the “wrong” of 2016.

But isn’t she just too old and controversial? Not really — at least not anymore. Biden has extended the acceptable limit of age (Clinton is five years younger), while Trump has done the same for disagreeability.

So could we see a Trump-Clinton rematch in 2024? Not if there’s any chance of Trump winning again — she surely wouldn’t run the risk of a second humiliation. However, if the Republican nominee (whether Trump or someone else) looks beatable, then why not?

Indeed, there’s a scenario in which Clinton becomes the best hope of victory. If the Republicans winning a crushing victory in the mid-terms, it may dawn upon the Democrats that the party’s wokeness, which Biden has pandered to, is electoral poison. A particular worry is the Hispanic vote, which is showing signs of a historic shift to the Republicans.

In such a bind, the only way out for the Democrats would be to triangulate between the extremes of Right and Left just as they did in the 1990s under Bill Clinton. So could Hillary emerge as the triangulator of the 2020s?

She starts off with the right ideological bona fides. She’s a moderate, but a liberal moderate. If anyone can talk her fellow liberals back from the edge of lunacy it’s her. Furthermore, she’s tough, outspoken and, most importantly, she’s got nothing much to lose at this stage. Assuming she’s not succumbed to the woke mind virus herself, no one is better placed to save the Dems from their own worst instincts.

Right now, the mainstream reaction to the idea of a Clinton comeback is “you’ve got to be joking!” But by the end of the year it could shift to “isn’t there a better candidate?” If that becomes the question, then she’s in with a shot.

Ben Roback: Peace in the Middle East. Biden is caught between his party’s historic position and its new left.

19 May

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Joe Biden is discovering what most US presidents find out at some point in their tenure: Middle East politics is hard. It is deep-rooted in decades of war, entrenched in centuries of difficult coexistence.

After years of getting better, it is getting worse again. Palestinian children born during the second intifada, which took place between 2000-2005, are now old enough to avenge for the death of a parent. Gilad Shalit, the former Hamas hostage, and his unit may be years past their military conscription, but as Israel calls up 9,000 reservists, they may need to dust off their uniform and hope one of their number is not kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists for five years again.

When it comes to Israel-Palestine, there simply is no simple solution.

So often in politics, the option set is binary. Remain or Leave. Trump or Biden. Free speech or cancel culture. The Middle East fails to fit the mould.  But it suits a world in which the happy median and polite disagreement are fading into extinction.

Both sides are capable of being right. In this case, one will tell you that Israel senselessly bombed a building that housed press outlets, including the Associated Press. The other will tell you if Israel laid down its weapons, the country would cease to exist: Hamas’ charter commits to the destruction of the State of Israel, for the avoidance of all doubt. Neither is wrong. ‘What about-ism’ too often plagues conversations about life in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

Biden, Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, and Hady Amr, the State Department’s envoy, have their work cut out. Before them, Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to Donald Trump, made Middle East peace his top priority. But the events of the last fortnight prove that he made minimal progress.

The White House reportedly blocked three recent United Nations attempts at the Security Council to call for a ceasefire in order to protect its relationship with Israel for as long as possible – a critical ally and let us remember, the only democracy in the Middle East.

As the death toll grew, the White House could resist no longer. Biden has now “expressed support for a ceasefire” – short of calling for one outright – between Israel and Hamas in a call with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden and Netanyahu are awkward allies, at best. Netanyahu pitted himself firmly against the Obama-Biden administration in virulently opposing (unsuccessfully) the Iran nuclear deal that was eventually signed in 2015. They are unnatural bedfellows. But the US-Israel relationship dictates that they must see eye to eye.

As the situation in the Middle East worsens, Democrats are split between the establishment and progressives

Congress is beginning to flex its muscles. Let us start with the GOP.

Republicans are unfailingly behind Israel, another legacy of Donald Trump. The 45th President was almost embarrassingly pro-Israel in office, typified by his deeply personal relationship with Netanyahu, and the decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The legacy effect was that pro-Israel politics went from being a truly bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill to, essentially, a GOP foreign policy talking point. The running joke for decades on the Hill was that the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby could get a napkin circulated with 70 Senators’ signatures on it. After Trump, Democrats are proving harder to come by.

Biden has the current support of his party. It will not last long.

The Democratic establishment and leadership back Israel: the House of Representatives’ Speaker. Nancy Pelosi, did exactly that late last week during in a news conference. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, has an historically fierce pro-Israel voting record. (Pro-Israel politics has an outsized importance in his New York Senate seat.)

Left-wing Democrat Congress representatives, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so often described as the ‘future of the party’, deviate from the leadership. And as a whole, the left of the party is not holding back.

Jon Osoff led a statement with 29 Democratic senators calling for such a ceasefire. Chris Murphy and Todd Young, the top Democrat and Republican on the Middle East subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Panel, led a bipartisan statement also calling for a ceasefire.

The centre of the party is wavering, too. Robert Menendez, the Democrat Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a fierce supporter of Israel on Capitol Hill, issued a statement over the weekend saying he was “deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets.”

And Gregory Meeks, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Democrats that he would ask the Biden administration to delay a $735 million tranche of weapons to Israel that had been previously approved. (The administration has approved the sale regardless.)

Fading unity is not just prevalent in the Democratic Party. The red, white, green and black in the Palestinian flag are the same colours that run through flags across the Arab world. The plight of the Palestinians is shared amongst its allies. But what has changed in the Middle East’s political nexus since the last major round of tensions between Israel and Gaza is Israel’s diplomatic engagement with the Arab world.

Israel has signed trade and peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – which, to his credit, Trump was happy to facilitate. Israelis now freely travel to Dubai for beach holidays, an unimaginable prospect ten years ago. Israel is now less of a blanket enemy in the region than it once was.

The underlying tragedy of the events of the last fortnight is the human suffering. Neither side is blameless, and once again civilian deaths are the sad outcome of failed diplomacy. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, said during an interview on MSNBC: “talk to the mothers who put their children next to them because if they’re going to die, they want to die together.” What is most upsetting is that her statement applies no less to mothers in Gaza than it does to mothers in Israel.