An Anxious Nation Holds Its Breath

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on March 2, 2016

An Anxious Nation Holds Its Breath

Jesse Ventura, former WWF wrestler who was also elected Minnesota governor in 1999 in an undated photo.

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

An Anxious Nation Holds Its Breath
“Former Gov. Ventura Split Between Backing Sanders or Trump”—headline, Associated Press, Feb. 29

The Intemperance Movement
If you’re a Democrat, you can take heart from a report in today’s New York Times. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign underestimated Barack Obama, and the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee ended up losing. This year her campaign managed to underestimate Bernie Sanders. It looks as though she’ll be spared a repeat of 2008, but only because Sanders is so hard to underestimate.

According to the Times, however, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign—in contrast, until recently, to the Republicans—is taking Donald Trump seriously. Or at least some in her circle are. The Times piece, by Amy Chozick and Patrick Healy, opens by describing a conference call of “prominent Democrats,” held sometime in the past week:

Several Democrats argued that Mrs. Clinton, should she be her party’s nominee, would easily beat Mr. Trump. They were confident that his incendiary remarks about immigrants, women and Muslims would make him unacceptable to many Americans. They had faith that the growing electoral power of black, Hispanic and female voters would deliver a Clinton landslide if he were the Republican nominee.

But others, including former President Bill Clinton, dismissed those conclusions as denial. They said that Mr. Trump clearly had a keen sense of the electorate’s mood and that only a concerted campaign portraying him as dangerous and bigoted would win what both Clintons believe will be a close November election.

That strategy is beginning to take shape, with groups that support Mrs. Clinton preparing to script and test ads that would portray Mr. Trump as a misogynist and an enemy to the working class whose brash temper would put the nation and the world in grave danger. The plan is for those themes to be amplified later by two prominent surrogates: To fight Mr. Trump’s ability to sway the news cycle, Mr. Clinton would not hold back on the stump, and President Obama has told allies he would gleefully portray Mr. Trump as incapable of handling the duties of the Oval Office.

We have our doubts about this strategy, especially the use of the two presidents as surrogates. It’s not clear that Mr. Clinton would “sway the news cycle” in his wife’s favor. He has seemed increasingly tired and error-prone on the stump, and Trump has already effectively used the former president’s history of sexually predatory behavior (which the Times demurely calls “extramarital affairs”) to blunt Mrs. Clinton’s accusations of “sexism.”

As for Obama, to have the sitting president “gleefully” disparage a candidate—particularly when the president himself is not on the ballot—tends in itself to diminish the office, and thus to undermine the argument Obama would be trying to make against Trump.

But at least it’s a strategy. The Times notes understatedly that Mrs. Clinton has had an “uneven performance with male voters so far,” and it closes with this quote from an Obama man, who (though the Times doesn’t say so) now backs Mrs. Clinton:

It will be hard for Mrs. Clinton to focus on policy and stay above the fray as her opponent and her own operation dig in for a brutish campaign. “Hope and change, not so much,” said David Plouffe, who managed Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, referring to the slogan that defined that race. “More like hate and castrate.”

Yeah, that’ll help with the male vote! The Times notes that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers “worry about Ohio, Florida and Democratic-leaning states in presidential elections that Mr. Trump has vowed to contest, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” One major Keystone State pol seems conflicted on the question:

Edward G. Rendell, a former governor of Pennsylvania who is supporting Mrs. Clinton, said that he thought she would ultimately win Pennsylvania, but conceded that he could be wrong. “He has crossover appeal with some blue-collar working-class Democrats,” Mr. Rendell said. The key to defeating Mr. Trump, he said, was to keep coaxing him into making offensive or extreme comments that would alienate independents and others who might normally vote for a Republican nominee.

“For every one of those blue-collar Democrats he picks up, he will lose to Hillary two socially moderate Republicans and independents in suburban Cleveland, suburban Columbus, suburban Cincinnati, suburban Philadelphia, suburban Pittsburgh, places like that,” he said.

There is some empirical evidence against the proposition that suburban moderates recoil from Trump. As we noted yesterday, in the latest nationwide poll of Republicans, Trump does slightly better among suburbanites (51%) than among the total sample (49%).

The New York Post’s Frederic Dicker reports that “a publicly disclosed Siena College poll of Long Island voters last week found Trump narrowly beating [Mrs.] Clinton among Long Island voters, 41 percent to 38 percent.” (No Republican has won either of Long Island’s two counties since 1992.)

Politico reports that “Democrats are drawing blueprints for stealing GOP moderates from a rightward-driving Republican Party, saying the heist is key to scoring a White House win in November”:

Democracy Corps’ Stan Greenberg, a prominent national Democratic pollster, released data Monday morning that suggest moderate Republicans—nearly a third of the GOP base—are being ignored by their presidential candidates. These Republicans don’t revile Planned Parenthood—in fact, many prefer the women’s health group to pro-life groups and candidates who take hard-line stances on abortion. They’re supportive of same-sex marriage. They’re not enamored of the NRA. They have less rigid attitudes about sex. They accept climate science.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Greenberg said. “They’re considered illegitimate within the Republican Party, and no one is speaking to them.”

But in the primaries so far, one candidate has consistently done well with self-described moderates: Donald Trump. Why? Well, according to the New York Times’s Josh Barro, writing last August, “Mr. Trump is a moderate Republican.” Three months later Slate’s Jamelle Bouie agreed: “Ideologically, he is the only candidate who fully fits the profile of the typical Republican nominee. Trump stands at the center of the GOP. He is the median Republican.” And in December, a pair of scholars writing for the Washington Post wrote that Trump “meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate.”

How can Trump be both a moderate and an extremist? Bouie got at the answer in his November piece:

On the surface, Trump is the antithesis of a traditional Republican nominee. It’s why I’ve been deeply skeptical of his chances. . . .

If Trump were more polished, if he looked and sounded more like [Marco] Rubio and [Jeb] Bush, we would see him, correctly, as a mainstream candidate for president. Set aside his affect, and Trump sits at the center of the GOP, and that is why he’s winning.

Trump is intemperate, but that is very different from being ideologically immoderate. The distinction helps explain why conservative intellectuals loathe Trump with more intensity than just about any other group: They (OK, we) tend to be both temperate and strongly ideological. Intellectuals, for the most part, don’t make the mistake of confusing Trump’s intemperance for ideology. Democrats have reason to worry that moderate voters won’t either.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.