When the 2016 presidential election finally rolls around, many of the voters casting ballots will have been so young that they hadn’t even attained what could be properly considered personhood when Hillary Clinton last occupied the White House.
Even more of them — anybody up to, say, 30 — will have only been children or adolescents during the Clinton administration.
For the youngest generation allowed to vote in the next presidential election, the Clinton years could be a hazy picture of the booming economy and budget surpluses that descended into the Bush years of 9/11, the Iraq War and the Great Recession. That is, unless conservative strategists have anything to say about it.
They don’t expect a re-litigating of Gennifer Flowers, Whitewater or Monica Lewinsky to be their ticket to keeping another Clinton out of the Oval Office if Hillary decides to run. But GOP operatives are bent on combatting any effort by the pro-Hillary machine to seize on the nation’s fond memories of the 1990s.
“A huge portion of the electorate that’s going to be her target don’t remember the Clinton administration at all,” Tim Miller, who’s heading an anti-Hillary PAC called America Rising, told TPM recently. “A lot of the negative stuff about the Clinton era has congealed into like a joke or a historical blip, but people don’t remember the details.”
“While that’s not going to be central to our nominee’s campaign against Hillary, what was happening in 1994,” he continued, “I do think it’s important for that to be part of the discussion about her, so that the folks who are getting information about 2016 don’t have a clouded vision, a nostalgic vision of the Clinton era.”
They have a lot of ground to make up. For starters, young people vote for Democrats in droves. They might identify more as independent, but they reliably vote for Democrats. That’s a fundamental element of the American electorate for the foreseeable future, which Miller acknowledged.
But even more troubling for Republicans, the Clintons themselves are more popular with young Americans than older voters. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week showed the Clinton family with a 77 percent favorability rating among those ages 18 to 39. That dropped off to 62 percent for those from 40 to 64 and down to 55 percent among those older than 65.
That might be the Clinton glow that worries Miller and company. Which helps explain why, say, when Hillary was set to receive an award from the American Bar Association, America Rising recalled her work “defending corporations” as a lawyer at the Rose Law Firm. Or when she received yet another award at a dinner hosted by some of her former critics, America Rising was happy to remind people that it was the Clinton administration’s welfare reform those people had criticized.
The utility of these efforts, though, is a matter of debate. Nobody except the most obsessive politicos are spending much time at all thinking about 2016. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), himself a presumptive 2016 candidate, got flack for attacking the Clintons over Monica Lewinsky, though top party officials have insisted that it is fair game in their campaign against Hilary.
But even in the heat of the campaign, people on the pro-Hillary side are predictably skeptical that these decades-old issues are going to have much salience for young adults — though they declined to go on the record to say so. One common critique of the America Rising strategy from the left is that young Americans in 2014 simply aren’t going to be put off by the juicier material from the Clinton opposition file.
“If Hillary decides to run for president, she will have an opportunity to lay our her vision for the future, and it’s the future that young Americans care about,” one former Hillary aide working on the efforts to promote her potential candidacy told TPM. “But if America Rising wants to only talk about the past, then I have three words for them: 23 million jobs.”
(That would be the number of jobs “created” during the Clinton administration.)
Miller, for his part, already anticipates such dismissals. But that isn’t going to stop him.
“What the Clintons are going to want to do is say, ‘Oh, that was 1993. It’s not worth talking about. You guys are really going to talk about Gennifer Flowers?'” Miller said. “Then on the flip side, they’re going to want to talk as good about the good parts, the perceived good parts of the 1990s. We can’t allow that double standard to happen.”