From Friends To Foes: How The Hillary Machine Will Deal With Dem Attacks

Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, as President Barack Obama began remarks with NATO Secretar... Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, as President Barack Obama began remarks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) MORE LESS
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Sooner or later, a Democratic presidential contender is going to be critical of Hillary Clinton. It has happened before and it will happen again.

Already, a few people openly mulling challenges to the presumed frontrunner have issued shots across the Clinton bow. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has openly theorized that Hillary could “shift hard right” after her election. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said frankly, “No, I don’t think so” when asked if Hillary was the right leader for the political revolution that he believes is needed.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: Vice President Joe Biden, the man who would in any other cycle be heir apparent. Aside from the occasional assertion that he is “uniquely qualified” to be president and that Hillary’s decision to run or not will not affect his own, Biden has remained quiet while the infrastructure for a Hillary candidacy was built. That infrastructure has included significant support from the Obama veterans who otherwise might have been prepping Biden’s own run.

That’s why heads turned this weekend when Biden reportedly “struck” several attendees at a closed-door fundraiser (in early primary state South Carolina, no less) with comments that seemed critical of the first Clinton presidency.

During a speech described as “populist,” Biden placed the beginning of the middle class’s insecurity in the “later years of the Clinton administration,” CNN reported, citing anonymous sources. They apparently found it hard to view the comments through anything but a 2016 lens.

It’s possible that Biden was simply making a factual statement, no offense intended, and sources laying the groundwork for a Clinton candidacy seemed a little unsure what to make of his comments without further context that the CNN report did not provide.

But it served as a useful reminder that a Hillary campaign — or its current shadow, until she makes an announcement — will eventually have to contend with some criticism from within her own party. Hillary might be a lock for the nomination if she runs, but, unless she defies all historical precedent in modern politics, she won’t be entirely unopposed.

So what’s the strategy?

Most within the budding Hillary 2016 infrastructure would advise remaining positive and avoiding getting drawn into any intra-party disputes that might arise before Hillary launches her candidacy. The Ready for Hillary super PAC has pledged to be “100 percent positive” in its own activities. Correct The Record, the rapid response group founded to combat conservative attacks, would be the most logical entity to counter, based on the division of labor.

But asked by TPM about Biden’s comments — and any potential future attacks from Democratic insurgents — Correct The Record demurred. They are focused on protecting Democrats from Republicans.

“Our mission at Correct The Record is to defend potential Democratic
presidential candidates from baseless right-wing attacks,” Adrienne Watson, deputy communications director, said in an emailed statement. “We utilize research and rapid response to ensure a Democratic president is elected in 2016.”

And the reality is: Those laying the foundation for a Hillary 2016 campaign aren’t worried about any potential primary challengers. Her frontrunner status has been confirmed in poll after poll.

“There isn’t any concern on a primary and engaging in the back and forth wouldn’t be a good tact as it will probably encourage potential opponents to be a pain for a longer amount of time,” one source close to the Hillary infrastructure told TPM. “And way down the road, it could piss potential donors and supporters off that we are eating our own.”

That’s the right play, an outside Democratic strategist said. With Hillary as presumptive a candidate as any non-incumbent has ever been, there isn’t any upside in feuding with other potential contenders for now. It’s also a reflection of her unique frontrunner status that comments as tepid as Biden’s are arguably as confrontational as the early 2016 Democratic jockeying has seen.

“It’s the only thing that makes sense. You don’t swing down,” Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist with presidential experience, told TPM. “You certainly don’t swing down as far as she’d have to swing down to hit anybody.”

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Notable Replies

  1. "It's the only thing that makes sense. You don't swing down," Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist with presidential experience, told TPM. "You certainly don't swing down as far as she'd have to swing down to hit anybody."

    And that’s the front-runner attitude that tripped her up before, and will trip her up against any legitimate candidate.

  2. But Joe Biden is incorrect.

    The decline in Union membership is often described as the decline of the middle class.

    The large decline in Union membership occurred from the 1960’s through 2000.

    While membership continues to erode, it certainly did not start under President Bill Clinton.

    Moreover, during the term of President Clinton, the demand for jobs exceeded the creation of more than 20 million - many in the good paying high-tech industry. No President had more jobs created on their watch; unemployment for a non-war period has never been lower than the time President Clinton left office.

    I like Joe & think he has been a good consigliere for President Obama. Clearly, Joe speaks his mind. But he conflated the erosion of the middle class with President Clinton and he is just wrong.

  3. While I agree with everything you said, there will not be a historic candidate that the media will rally around in 2016 like they did with President Obama in 2008. They will be behind Hillary in 2016 and will do their part to take down any candidate to include Democratic Candidates that could stand between her and the White House. They won’t bother with the Bernie Sanders or the Joe Bidens of the party because they know they have no chance of taking her down, but if a real challenger emerges they will go after them.

  4. I disagree that Joe Biden was incorrect. Yes, the middle class has been shrinking since at least the early 70’s, but the mass instability a lot of people are feeling in the middle class today because of the current job market and crap economy has it’s roots in the late 90’s. There are many factors but the best example is the repeal of Glass Steagall in 1998. Many deregulatory activities followed that directly led to the crash of 2008. Clinton does own a small amount of blame for that, but the majority of the blame falls on the Republican Congress starting in 1994.

    The reality is that decline in Union membership has led to a shrinking of the middle class, but even if union membership had remained stable since the 60’s, it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference in the face of the Wall Street juggernaught created in the late 90s and early 00s. And that is why the middle class is on such shaky ground today.

  5. Avatar for jsfox jsfox says:

    If a real challenger emerges not sure why you think the media will go after him or her.

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