How Clinton Enables the Republican Party

I’ve been saying that one of the problems with the “Trump is like no Republican we’ve ever seen before” line is that it prevents us from consigning the Republican Party to the oblivion it deserves. In making Trump sui generis, by insisting that he is an utter novelty, you allow the rest of the party to distance themselves from him, to make him extreme and themselves respectable, and to regroup after November.

Now a leaked email from DNC Communication Director Luis Miranda, which I stumbled across in Carl Beijer’s excellent discussion here, makes plain just how costly this strategy is. Writing back in May, Miranda protests that the Clinton campaign wants to separate Trump from the GOP so that it can point to all the Republican officials who oppose Trump and support her. But as Miranda points out, what’s good for Clinton is bad for down-ballot Democrats. So long as down-ballot Republicans distance themselves from Trump, he says, Clinton is willing to give them an out, thereby hurting their Democratic opponents. (And as Carl points out, Clinton is keeping a lot of the money her organization raised for down-ballot Democrats, doubly hurting them.)

Not only is this bad for down-ballot Democrats. It lets the entire Republican Party—all the decades of its rotten, racist, revanchist formations—off the hook. Clinton gets to say she has the support of mainstream, respectable Republicans; they get to say, if not I’m with her, then at least I’m not with him. And with that, a ticket to legitimacy.

We’re now seeing the fruition of that campaign, as Clinton rolls out one endorsement after anotherJohn Negroponte, enabler of death squads in Central America; Michael Hayden, the man who, according to Jane Mayer, made “living on the edge” the motto of US foreign policy after 9/11; and, if Clinton can land him, the biggest prize of them all: Henry Kissinger, of whom Kissinger biographer Greg Grandin recently wrote: “He stands not as a bulwark against Donald Trump’s feared recklessness and immorality but as his progenitor.” All of these men are among the most bloodthirsty elements in the right-wing firmament. But now they’ve been re-branded as “center-right foreign policy voices.”

So that’s what is at stake with the “Trump is like no Republican we’ve ever seen before.” This isn’t an academic argument about history; this has real consequences at the ballot box. In Congress, in state legislatures, and in elections to come.

Here’s the text of Miranda’s leaked email:

Hi Amy, the Clinton rapid response operation we deal with have been asking us to disaggregate Trump from down ballot Republicans. They basically want to make the case that you either stand with Ryan or with Trump, that Trump is much worse than regular Republicans and they don’t want us to tie Trump to other Republicans because they think it makes him look normal.

They wanted us to basically praise Ryan when Trump was meeting Ryan, or at a minimum to hold him up as an example. So they want to embrace the “Republicans fleeing Trump” side, but not hold down ballot GOPers accountable.

That’s a problem. I pushed back that we cannot have our state parties hold up Paul Ryan as a good example of anything. And that we can’t give down ballot Republicans such an easy out. We can force them to own Trump and damage them more by pointing out that they’re just as bad on specific policies, make them uncomfortable where he’s particularly egregious, but asking state Parties to praise House Republicans like Ryan would be damaging for the Party down ballot.

Can you help us navigate this with Charlie? We would basically have to throw out our entire frame that the GOP made Trump through years of divisive and ugly politics. We would have to say that Republicans are reasonable and that the good ones will shun Trump. It just doesn’t work from the Party side. Let me know what you think.

Thanks, – Luis.

As Miranda shows in his P.S., it’s very clear that not only was this “Trump is so different” line a deliberate line created by the Clinton people to suit her own interests; it also ran against the way many Democratic insiders, including heavy-hitters in Congress, wanted to frame the fight. Here again is Miranda:

P.S. – – that strategy would ALSO put us at odds with Schumer, Lujan, Pelosi, Reid, basically all of  our Congressional Democrats who have embraced our talking points and have been using them beautifully over the last couple of weeks to point out that GOPers in Congress have been pushing these ugly policies for years. Trying to dump this approach would probably not work with Members of Congress, it’s worse than turning an aircraft carrier, we would lose 3/4 of the fleet. Let me know what you think. It might be a good strategy ONLY for Clinton (which I don’t believe), I think instead she needs as many voices as possible on the same page.

Update (12 am)

This, incidentally, is how you know—one of the many ways you know—that Clinton’s is not going to be a realignment presidency. Realignment presidents run not against a candidate from the opposing party. They run against an entire political and social deformation. Lincoln against the slaveocracy, FDR against laissez-faire rule, Reagan against the New Deal. They run against decades and decades of rule and ruin. In working so hard to separate Trump not only from the Republican present but the Republican past, Clinton is deliberately announcing that her campaign is not against a political formation but is instead simply an effort to defeat one man. I’d say it was a missed opportunity, but from the beginning it was clear that Clinton didn’t see the election in these terms. And the truth is, neither does the Democratic Party apparatus and its leadership. They want a return to the status quo ante, to life before Trump, when we had things like the Iraq War, massive tax cuts, and the like to contend with.


  1. Bill Michtom August 11, 2016 at 11:22 pm | #

    And this is why real progressives are NOT “with her.” I can consider what Noam Chomsky is saying about voting for HRC in a swing state, but, as usual, the DNC continues to destroy most decent Dem candidates throughout the country.

    Thanks for this, Corey.

  2. weldonberger August 11, 2016 at 11:35 pm | #

    To me it looks as though the Clinton campaign intends to help establishment Republicans regain control of their party from their wayward voters once the election is over; either that, or to simply absorb those Republicans into the Democratic party. One has to wonder, too, what the benefit to welcoming people like Negroponte into the fold is–he’s not a vote-getter, so what’s he for, and what’s his price? Cui bono and etc.

  3. xenon2 August 11, 2016 at 11:46 pm | #

    I’m for Donald Trump b/c he hasn’t killed anyone.

  4. Kim Kaufman August 11, 2016 at 11:49 pm | #

    Obama threw the Dem party under the bus for his own agenda. Hence, huge losses in 2010 especially in state elections. Thus the Republican skewed gerrymandering that ensured them a majority in the House for a decade. Clinton is doing the same. Neither of them care about anythng except their own careers. Perhaps this is what a “one world government” is. One corporate party and a couple of fringers.

    • David Hoelscher August 12, 2016 at 2:33 am | #

      Exactly right. I’d just add that all this is par for the course. Several observers have plausibly argued that, when the Gingrich revolution occurred in 1994, it was in a sense the best thing that could have happened to Bill. Thereafter, he was free, with Hillary’s full support at every step, to govern like the “Rockefeller Republican” he was inclined to be. The Dem. Party has always just been a vehicle for their pursuit of power and money.

      • Bill Michtom August 12, 2016 at 10:44 am | #

        And, like any good Rockefeller Republican, he had some Attica in him.

  5. Dean C. Rowan August 12, 2016 at 12:31 am | #

    Put another way, cozy bipartisanship being the predominant mode in Washington, Clinton seeks to maintain status quo. Trump horrifies everybody, hence it’s easy to attack him and protect the status quo.

  6. David Jacobs August 12, 2016 at 12:43 am | #

    How does Corey’s last sentence square with the earlier statement about the Congressional Democrats’ contrary stance? Miranda is describing a significant bloc who do not want to normalize Republicans or capitulate to them.

    • Corey Robin August 12, 2016 at 12:56 am | #

      You’re right, David. That’s a good point. I think what I meant was that there’s still a significant faction with the Party that’s not really ready to repudiate 50 years of neoliberalism. Because that would require not only confronting the Republican Party but the Democratic Party as well. But that’s a bigger discussion, and the way I wrote this, isn’t really clear and contradicts the point, as you say.

  7. Glenn August 12, 2016 at 1:01 am | #

    René Girard has applied his scapegoat theory to many social interactions, and this one looks to be a perfect fit.

    Goldwater Girl Clinton will allow anti-Trump Republicans to cleanse themselves by using Trump as a scapegoat.

    Plus, Hillary purges the Democratic Party of any useless-to-her remnants of pro-worker leftist ideology if it proceeds without a rebellion.

  8. Tony August 12, 2016 at 1:18 am | #

    It squares because the congressional Dems are concerned with winning down ballot races, not–he is saying–with realigning the party along progressive policy lines.

  9. Syd August 12, 2016 at 6:51 am | #

    I was in denial a long time about the Democrats, but what finally slapped me awake was the Bill Clinton-Paul Ryan get together after Kathy Hochul won that special election promising to protect Medicare. That was practically the first good election news in over 2 years, and Clinton was conspiring with the “enemy” to make sure it didn’t happen again.

    I felt like a kid at the theater. “Hey, dad. I just saw the Montagues and Capulets yukking it up back stage. What’s going on?” — “It’s only showbiz, son.”

  10. Thomas Leo Dumm August 12, 2016 at 8:47 am | #

    At the “electronic ‘journalism'” level, this is what is happening: a Republican, Hugh Hewitt, say (who is now employed by MSNBC) comes on after Trump says something like “Obama founded ISIS,” and then says, well, that wasn’t really true, but it was more or less ture, because more accurately, Obama created an enormous vacuum and refused to do anything to reinforce Iraq which resulted in ISIS — and why does he call it ISIL? Isn’t that suspicious?” And Chuck Todd, for instance, or some other MSNBC talking head, smiles and nods wisely. This is mainstreaming.

  11. Phil August 12, 2016 at 9:24 am | #

    This has long been a dynamic of the Democratic Party. Here in New York, when he essentially refused to endorse the idea of campaigning for a Democratic State Senate (which would give them control of all 3 branches, and erase his ready made excuse), Cuomo showed that the student of Clintonism has become the master.

  12. Roquentin August 12, 2016 at 9:35 am | #

    I spent a long time wondering how people I knew who weren’t rich could vote Republican, something so blatantly contrary to their interests. It’s only now I’m realizing the people who vote Democrat are bound by a slightly milder version of the same Stockholm Syndrome. I’ve been thinking, maybe the Sanders candidacy was less a revolution, even a realignment, than the last chance for the people currently running the Democratic party to redeem themselves. These days, it just seems like there’s not much left to fight for in the two party duopoly, that the entire apparatus may be broken beyond repair. Maybe we’ve reached the stage where history has no use for the elite anymore, so their only recourse is to take actions for short term profit which only hasten their demise long term. If that’s true, this is a dangerous time. There’s nothing more frightening than a desperate elite who knows their days are numbered and feels like it has nothing to lose.

    This campaign is about saving the elite rather than replacing it, about crossing party lines because their only true loyalties are to their class and their grip on power. If there’s a silver lining, my most optimistic hope is that when the white working class sees the Republican elite betraying them, they can be weened off Trumps ghoulish racism and made to see that they belong on the left. Hopefully, at long last, they can be made to see that their leaders don’t give the first shit about them either. That’s probably seeing things through rose-colored glasses. We’re probably seeing the rise of a new far-right, the sort of which now plays a large role in European politics.

    • Thomas L. Dumm August 12, 2016 at 10:34 am | #

      Well said.

    • hyperbola August 12, 2016 at 12:31 pm | #

      Sanders looked like a strawman from early on. His meek swallowing of the Nevada caucus presaged exactly what role he would play at the DNC. Just as the GOP had its oligarch-controlled Tea Party, the DEMs had their oligarch-controlled Bern.

      “Our” politics is now so manipulated that the natural partnership is between the Tea Party (prior to its oligarch take over) and Occupy Wall Street.

      Clinton will continue moving us down a well-mapped road to fascism and wars. Trump is far more likely to shake up the system. Who knows if he is to be believed on anything. If promising to stop the wars is real – HURRAY. If promising to stop the supplanting of a democratic system with corporate control is real – HURRAY. If he is just lying, better that we get the incompentent collapse over as soon as possible. Certainly better than Killary and her 250,000 murders in Syria.

      • Roquentin August 12, 2016 at 2:26 pm | #

        Thanks for the kind words.

        Chris Hedges recently said something to the effect that “Sanders walked away from his moment” and it really stuck with me. He had his chance, he really could have done something meaningful with or without the nomination, but he chose not to. For whatever reason he just couldn’t bring himself to take that extra step and abandon a party which didn’t want him, openly conspired against him, and will actively oppose most of what he stood for.

        I will not support Trump in any way, shape, or form. While he may have certain economic and foreign policy positions which are better than Clinton, his racist anti-immigrant stances are too terrible to ignore. I’m voting for Jill Stein, and even if I didn’t I’d refuse to vote at all citing a lack of acceptable candidates. I refuse to give HRC the legitimacy of voting for her on general principle after a hopelessly corrupt and rigged primary.

        People say all this bullshit about “throwing your vote away,” but endorsing a rigged primary process and candidate who openly advocates against what you believe in politically fits that definition far more closely than a 3rd party. I’ll turn the dialectic on its head and say, “It is you, Hillary voter, who is throwing your vote away.”

      • Bob Zannelli August 21, 2016 at 4:33 pm | #

        Here we see that the inability to have an effective politics being consoled by a crazy bring on an economic and political apocalypse , which is is not a far fetched possibility given a Trump -Pense presidency. The rise of fascism in Europe before World War two was facilitated by both the left and the right. How did that work out?

    • Roquentin August 12, 2016 at 2:37 pm | #

      Actually, when I think of Sanders campaign these days the first thing that comes to mind is that scene late in Easy Rider where he says “We Blew It.”

    • InWonder August 13, 2016 at 7:01 pm | #

      Sadly, I think Republican base voters will do the opposite of what you want, for logical reasons. I have talked to some passionate Trump voters, IRL and online. Some of them are immigrants and people of color. Before the primary was even over, they were hugging me and patting me on the head (sometimes literally). “Silly leftist, couldn’t you see that a decent guy like Bernie wouldn’t stand a chance against Hillary’s corruption? Ya gotta go with a strong man. Only a guy like Trump can smash through all that bullshit.” And then, the system proved them right.

      I don’t see any reason for them to join the left now. Bernie was starting to get real traction for democratic socialism in the deep south. But then he bowed down to the Queen, so these guys are going to view him, and anyone coming after him trying to work within the Democratic Party, as weak fools. Their suspicions have been confirmed. If Trump is stymied, they will look for an even “stronger” strong man. I personally know some Bernie-supporting young men who have flipped to Trump not merely on an LOTE strategic level, but these formerly progressive guys are saying the system is rigged against them, feminism is a lie, racism doesn’t exist. It’s horrifying to watch, but on the other hand, they wanted a decent man offering decent, proven policies to build a decent country. And they watched massive wholesale corruption and criminality on behalf of a viscerally unfit candidate, all the while they’re being smeared as selfish racists. I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly what’s going on with them, but it seems like they’re throwing up their hands and saying, “If you’re going to call me all that stuff and crap on me, I might as well BE all that stuff and crap on you.”

      If Hillary is installed in power, the next phase is not going to be working class white men joining the gentle left to make change electorally. I would love to be wrong, but I am very, very afraid of what’s coming.

  13. howardbrazee August 12, 2016 at 10:24 am | #

    Clinton is an old style Republican.

  14. David Gelb August 12, 2016 at 11:00 am | #

    FDR’s *presidency* was turn from laissez-faire, but does that describe his 1932 campaign?

  15. Jeff August 12, 2016 at 11:06 am | #

    I believe Michael Hayden has stopped short of endorsing Clinton. He has spoken out against Trump and she used it in a campaign ad.

    • LFC August 13, 2016 at 12:57 pm | #

      Re Hayden: correct; as far as I’m aware, he did not endorse Clinton. Neither did Negroponte, neither did Zelikow etc. Signed a letter saying they were not voting for Trump but did not say they wd vote for Clinton. At least that’s my recollection.

      (OTOH, Robert Kagan, iirc, wrote an op-ed saying he is voting for Clinton. So the exact response has varied.)

    • Corey Robin August 13, 2016 at 7:11 pm | #

      Thanks, Jeff. I looked it up and you are indeed right. I’ve corrected the OP.

      LFC: Why do you say Negroponte didn’t endorse Clinton? I mean, you could do what I just did in response to Jeff’s query about Hayden, and just look it up rather than relying on assertion and speculation.

      I only ask this b/c I’ve noticed over the years that you do this quite a bit.

      You often make factual claims about texts, events, statements, and the like, but you hedge them by saying you haven’t really checked to make sure they’re true. You haven’t really bothered the read the article carefully, you’ve only skimmed the book, you can’t really remember for certain, and the like.

      From the reader’s perspective, it seems like you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too: you want to be able to make the claim, you want to enter the fray (usually against someone else’s argument), but you’re not willing to really stand behind your own statement or do the work we all have to do when we make factual claims. As a result, you’re uncertain about their truth, but rather than doing what most of us do in that situation — look it up (I mean it’s not like this requires a trip to the downtown library) — you say it anyway, assuming that your qualification lets you off the hook for making the claim.

      A person may do that kind of thing once, maybe twice, but when you start doing it as often as you do, it’s starting seeming, as I said, like a tic, or, worse, a stratagem.

      Just a thought for you as you engage on various comments threads.

      • LFC August 13, 2016 at 8:01 pm | #

        A fair point. Negroponte did endorse her. (Will see if I can do better in this respect in future.)

  16. Chris August 12, 2016 at 11:25 am | #

    This is a feature, not a bug. Like when Obama had the opportunity to hang the Great Recession on failed neoliberal Republican economic policy and passed. Like when Cuomo intervened to made sure that the Republicans maintained control of the NY Senate ( Democrats need Republicans in order to convince their liberal voter base that they really in their heart of hearts believe in their progressive campaign promises, but gosh darn it, those nasty Republicans just won’t let them do the right thing. So that’s why you can’t have nice things.

    • brianbreczinski August 12, 2016 at 3:32 pm | #

      Kind of like how the Republicans need the Dems, they’re why they can’t outlaw abortion etc. and make their allies happy — allies who would then lose interest in politics, not to mention the repercussions when everyone else wakes up.

      Nixon divorced himself from his party in ’72 so he could win big, kind of similar to what Hilary is doing, no?

  17. s. wallerstein August 12, 2016 at 11:35 am | #

    Here’s some new findings about Henry Kissinger’s ties to the murderous Argentinian junta (the bloodiest in South America). I’m not sure if this information appeared in the mainstream U.S. media.

  18. mark August 12, 2016 at 11:45 am | #

    Is there a difference between a businessman talking politics in the Republican Party to the more typical politician talking business in the Republican Party?

    Is this what Clinton finds so strategically attractive?

  19. Donald August 12, 2016 at 5:00 pm | #

    I agree with this post, but for some reason ( probably several different reasons) some people in the comment section at the other blog seem to have great difficulty with this.

  20. stevenjohnson August 13, 2016 at 8:49 am | #

    The assumption the victory of down-ballot Democrats is a Good Thing is not one I’m quite ready to make. All the major candidates, not just Trump and Clinton, but all Trump’s rivals and Bernie Sanders too, are a part of the awfulness, warmongering and various forms of reaction, class war in the service of the owners, etc.

    That said, it is not clear how down-ballot Republicans need to be enabled to separate themselves from Trump. Most people think that Trump ran against the party establishment, which does include pretty much all the public office holders.They even think that the majority of Republican politicians tried to gang up against Trump. So any down-ballot Republicans who wants to separate themselves from Trump have a superficially plausible case without any help whatsoever from Clinton. I suppose trying to take advantage of historical amnesia and say that Trump is Mr. Republican is SOP for politics today. But it still seems to falsely imputing a unique evilness to the Republican Party because of the unique evilness of Trump isn’t factual.

    Attributing such powers to Clinton does seem in a perverse way to endorse the fuehrerprinzip. Our leader is a man of the people who mirrors out greatness but theirs is a supervillain. This does not seem to be a healthy way of thinking, to say the least. Or, to put it another way, it really takes me back to the Nineties and the demonization of Clinton. That was reactionary politics then. It’s hard to see why it’s not reactionary politics now.

  21. Syd August 14, 2016 at 11:49 am | #

    Obama said the same thing at the convention last month: “But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican, and it sure wasn’t conservative.”

    Obviously Goldman Sachs executives do their homework, and don’t fund realignment presidents.
    What stings is all the progressives’ time and money thrown away on Bernie.

  22. UserGoogol August 14, 2016 at 12:40 pm | #

    This is a really weird way of looking at political realignments. Political parties do not get consigned to oblivion. That is simply something that doesn’t happen. As you yourself wrote a whole book about, there have been progressives and reactionaries for the entirety of modernity. In terms of formal political parties, in the United States the Federalists and the Whigs broke up, but not because their ideologies were consigned to oblivion, they reformed quickly shortly afterwards.

    Realignments are as the name implies about changing the alignment of politics. The various factions of politics change which coalition they align themselves with. So the New Deal was about racists and progressives joining together, and then after the Civil RIghts Act they joined their more natural allies on the right, and progressives had to cobble together a new coalition with moderates. The rise of neoliberalism was something that happened alongside this, not the underlying cause. If there will be another realignment, then by definition that involves people on the right moving into the Democratic Party. Where else would they come from?

  23. jonnybutter August 19, 2016 at 9:58 am | #

    St. Ronnie the Reasonable had a contingency plan drawn up to facilitate rounding up Muslims in the US legally, and Muslim Americans and putting them in camps

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