Hillary Clinton does not face a serious primary challenger for the Democratic nomination in 2016, but that isn’t stopping some liberals from putting together the trappings for one.
The handful of Democrats who have expressed interest in challenging Clinton — Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb — are all polling double digits behind her and raising minimal funds. None have the kind of name recognition that could seriously threaten her inevitable march to the nomination.
But that’s not stopping some on the left from trying their hand at the classic primary squeeze play of raising issues in the primary in an effort to persuade her to adopt them.
Over the weekend, during his first foray into the early caucus state of Iowa, O’Malley called for tougher sanctions on Wall Street and “too-big-to-fail” banks, and for reinstating Glass-Steagall, a law that separated commercial and investment banking which was repealed in 1999. He also called for strongly supporting the long-embattled Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was passed in 2010 response to the financial crisis.
“Today, most Republicans in Congress are hell-bent on disassembling the Dodd-Frank Act,” O’Malley’s PAC, O’Say Can You See, wrote in a press release Monday, along with a link to a petition. “And too many Democrats have been complicit in the backslide toward less regulation.”
O’Malley’s populist swing came the same weekend that the Boston Globe featured a splashy package begging Massachusetts Senator and liberal hero Elizabeth Warren to run for president. “Democrats need Elizabeth Warren’s Voice in the 2016 presidential race,” the editorial board urged. (The idea is not totally out of left field, as it were. Though Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running for president, she has been somewhat cagey about it. She studiously uses the present tense — “I am not running for president” — and has yet to endorse a Clinton candidacy.)
This week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee also re-upped its ongoing effort to motivate liberals to challenge Clinton’s famously Wall Street-friendly economic positions. Liberals should join New Hampshire and Iowa leaders in urging candidates to “campaign on big, bold, economic populist ideas,” the PCCC urged. “The more momentum we get, the more Hillary Clinton and others will take notice.”
So what’s all this clamoring, calling-to-arms actually add up to?
Liberal optimists argue that it’s the only thing that will help scooch Clinton to the left at a time when she’s already planning her general election strategy. They believe that Clinton will adopt some of their positions in order to win the full-throated endorsement of key liberals such as Warren who she’ll need to rally the base in 2016.
Liberal pessimisists say it’s all for naught. Without a face to put on these ideas — or even a name on a ballot — the left won’t have enough clout to persuade Clinton to change course. Even if she doesn’t adopt any of their ideas, Clinton could still rally the liberal base in the general election because she’d be the first female president, by adopting other liberal planks or by running against the right Republican.