Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hillary's Perfect Storm

I've been thinking about something lately. It's the increasing noise from disaffected Republicans and Bush supporters about a possible third party candidacy in the 2008 election. (More, from Mickey Kaus, here.)

The usual rallying / organising points for such a candidate are border security / immigration control and the return of fiscal responsibility to Federal government, if not a revival of small-government cutting. The signs are good that any third party built upon, and focused tightly only on, these two points would severely cut into Republican voters and even a few Democratic voters.

It struck me that if the Republicans don't start taking this talk very, very seriously -- and really soon -- they will be setting up the "perfect storm" that Democrat Hillary Clinton needs to win the Presidency in 2008.

Think back to 1992, when her husband Bill ran. At one point, he was polling in the mid-20s in terms of voters! This was just before he relaunched himself as "the Comeback Kid." (By the way, he gave that name to himself in New Hampshire. The media picked it up, repeated it, and made it stick.)

This was also the year an eccentric billionaire businessman named Ross Perot threw his hat, and money, into the race. At that point in the presidential campaign, he was outpolling Clinton! Perot then, inexplicably, decided to retire from the race for a while, destroying his momentum; Clinton became the "Comeback Kid" and history was made.

It was the presence of Perot in the race that made Clinton's victory possible. Clinton never got more than a plurality in either of his wins. (43% in 1992 and 49% in 1996.) It was the draining effect of Perot and the Reform Party on Republican voters that made Clinton possible.

I think the same thing could happen again, and it may be possible that Hillary is counting on it happening. Any third party focusing on immigration and/or government spending will lower Republican support. But will it be enough to enable a Hillary win?

She has formidable negative numbers to overcome, as well as significant opposition from the anti-Bush Left trying to seize control of the Democratic Party. Smart handlers could turn that second issue into a plus for her, by showing she's not the "old" Hillary of the 90's but the "new" Hillary of the Senate. "Her own party thinks she's too far to the right! It's a sign she's reformed. That makes her OK for Middle America to vote for."

If Republicans pick a Giuliani or a McCain as their candidate -- and there's a third party candidate -- then they really face trouble. Lots of the classic "pro-defense, small government" Republicans will bolt, as will a lot of social conservative Christians. If they have somewhere to go, then Hillary (if she's the Democratic candidate) benefits.

Worse still, imagine the Perot / Reform movement, but with the incredible organising and communication and fund-raising power of the Internet factored in!

It's all speculative at this point. There's no sign of any third party appearing right now, just a fertile ground for one to grow in. But there's a slow confluence of factors and prerequisite conditions brewing up out there. A perfect storm is a possibility. A successful Hillary Rodham Clinton candidacy might happen.

It's something to think about.

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