- - Thursday, June 2, 2016


Hillary Clinton, suddenly on the run for her life in California, suffers a problem that won’t go away even if Bernie Sanders finally concedes and goes home to New England. To beat Donald Trump in November she must unite the quarreling factions of a party that makes the Republican coalition look like a resigned if not entirely happy family. Even Paul Ryan, who takes his position as the conscience of his party’s elites very seriously indeed, said Thursday that he would vote for the Donald.

The focus of the Democrats has been whether Bernie’s young voters, enamored of his vision of a perfect socialist future with free stuff for all, will at last rally around an aged, ethically challenged, boring representative of the establishment they abhor. History says most of them will — being a sore loser gets old — but a lot of them demand that Hillary focus on the issues that move them, so this means that some of them won’t vote in the numbers she needs. The depth of her dilemma, measured in the numbers of recent California public-opinion polls, is that Bernie bests her by 2 to 1 among Democrats under 45 years of age.

To bring them home, Hillary is tacking ever farther left on the economic and social issues, and is cozying up to someone she really doesn’t like, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom the Donald calls “Pocahontas” to mock her claim to be partly Cherokee. Such tacking is necessary, says one former Clinton aide, “to assure them that Hillary will move forward a populist progressive agenda.”

But she must hold on to traditionally Democratic white middle- and working-class voters who have been the backbone of the party since the Depression years of the 1930s, and who are suffering again in a stagnant economy. They see the “progressive” left as silly, irrelevant and hostile to their values and concerns. Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, has warned Hillary that she could lose large numbers of such voters to Donald Trump in November. President Obama hurried to Indiana, deep in the heartland, this week to attempt to reassure the voters the party has all but shunned in its pursuit of the permanently affronted.

The conundrum is that appeals to the “progressives” on the social issues so dear to them make it difficult to hold on to what she needs to beat Donald Trump. How Hillary and her managers do this will be instructive to watch. Bernie Sanders‘ generation of Democrats, led by George McGovern, a sincere but naive peacenik, drove the working- and middle-class voters out of the party and enabled Republicans to dominate national politics for more than a decade. Democratic strategists are counting on their hunch that the Republicans have got all the unhappy Democrats they’ll ever get, and they can be replaced through “identity politics” and changing demographics.

Perhaps, but perhaps not. Democrats are beginning to worry that the bleeding hasn’t stopped, and the White House, which once looked secure forever, is suddenly in play.

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