The silence of many on the left about their misgivings about the Democratic Party’s putative 2016 presidential candidate is a tempting target for conservatives. As the New York Times noted over the weekend, some mischief-making conservatives have been using social media to prod liberals into criticizing Hillary Clinton on a host of issues where they may have profound differences with the former First Lady. As the Times notes, some of these efforts have met with success. But Republicans shouldn’t get too excited about these small triumphs. The left may not like the Clintons, but so far there is no sign that a critical mass of liberals are prepared to give in to the temptation of examining her views or the corrupt manner with which she and her husband have conducted their affairs. Until proven otherwise, this generation of liberals appears to be focused solely on winning elections in a way that many conservatives still are not.
It is true that there have been signs that a Democratic Party that has been marching in lockstep since nominating Barack Obama is about to implode. The trade bill currently before Congress has illustrated a profound split between those Democrats dedicating to governing and those elements in the party still in thrall to either traditional left-wing institutions like the unions or to populist liberal ideology. The exchange between President Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren showed that there was plenty of fodder for a Democrat civil war that could, if it were not restrained by the fact that most Democrats feel a sense of personal loyalty to the president, blow up into something pretty nasty.
It is that breach that Senator Bernie Sanders and perhaps former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley would like to exploit as they prepare to challenge Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination. But though Clinton’s political rust, arrogance and the appalling sense of entitlement that characterize her halting progress toward 2016 would seem to offer an inviting target for a true-believing liberal, so far the challengers show little sign of making much progress.
Indeed, O’Malley was hurt more by his association with tough police procedures in Baltimore during his past terms as mayor than Clinton has been by any effort to tie her to the Iraq War and inconsistencies about trade, let alone the scandalous Clinton Cash allegations. That Democrats would be screaming bloody murder about the conflicts of interest noted in Peter Schweizer’s book if they were about a Republican goes without saying. But the silence of liberals who know they are not in step with Hillary on many issues is a tribute to the Democrats’ party discipline.
It is particularly significant that liberals who have been talking about going to the mat against Obama on the trade bill have been remarkably quiet about Clinton’s refusal to take a position. Hillary is terribly vulnerable on the issue since she is a past ardent supporter of free trade. But rather than hounding her stealth campaign demanding that she declare herself one way or the other, most of the same people moving heaven and earth to sabotage Obama’s efforts to pass the trade bill haven’t uttered a peep about Clinton’s strange silence.
That’s especially significant because if Warren were really tempted to challenge Clinton, this might be the issue on which she would start to tentatively attack her opponent at her weakest point. If Warren were seriously contemplating getting into the presidential sweepstakes, she’d be putting Clinton’s feet to the fire being lit by unions and other left-wing special interests on trade. That would be the way to either smoke Hillary out as an ally of big business and Wall Street or to force her to back their opposition to the bill.
But Warren, the one Democrat that most observers think could give Clinton a run for her money, has left her alone. The same goes for the unions that have, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, been using their members’ dues to funnel money to the Clinton Foundation that has been operating as a political slush fund for the former First Family.
So while, as the Times reported, stray left-wingers have been goaded into sniping at Hillary on Twitter by clever provocations from the right, most liberals are sticking to the party line about their candidate. Though Clinton’s weak start to her campaign showed she is not going to be the general election juggernaut that Democrats anticipated, she remains ahead of potential primary challenges by 40-50 percentage points. While Republicans are still struggling with the question of whether it is okay to nominate a candidate who strays from the consensus on the right on any issue, Democrats are interested only in victory. So long as Clinton is seen as a likely winner, a proposition that, as our Noah Rothman writes, may be in doubt, her party faithful will continue to ignore her faults and her positions, no matter how hard Republicans beg them to take note of them.