April 14, 2016
Hillary Clinton enters the long-debated Brooklyn debate on the precipice. A victory next Tuesday and the nomination is finally hers. Sure, Bernie would/will continue the struggle to California and the convention. Ted Kennedy did in 1980, Sanders will now. But Hillary is the nominee.
A loss and all hell breaks loose. Math is really important until it’s not. If Hillary can lose New York, she can lose any other upcoming state. Bernie is already even in an increasing amount of national polls. Aside from participating in an ill-advised skit with NYC Mayor De Blasio over the weekend, she’s run a solid primary campaign in her sorta mostly home state.
She’s ahead. Not by that much though. The latest survey from Siena College has the spread at 10. It’s outside the margin of error, from a pollster with plenty of in-state experience. However, when they last surveyed five weeks prior, Clinton was up 21.
It’s a really tricky spot. If polls were showing a 3 to 5 point spread, she would know her campaign was at huge risk. If Bernie was making obvious post-Wisconsin progress, same thing. If she was up 15 to 20 points, and was holding where she was 4 to 6 weeks ago, no worries, no fear. Run out the clock.
Hillary can try to run out the clock. It might work. She may have enough margin. But Massachusetts polling was off by about 6-7 points. Wisconsin was off by a little more. Very dangerous to assume.
On the other hand, Bernie really struggles in closed primaries. What if she overreacts and makes a big error in the debate, perhaps by going over the top and making him a sympathetic figure. Yet, why would she pass up the opportunity to hit him with a knockout punch?
Continuing the boxing metaphor, she’s in the 10th round of a 12 round bout. Hillary is clearly ahead on points. She’s won six of the first nine rounds, some by a noticeable margin. If she wins the 10th, it’s impossible to lose unless she steps into the wrong punch (basically an indictment in this case.)
Unfortunately boxers can’t see the scorecards during the fight, much how candidates aren’t 100% sure how accurate polls are (even their internal surveys.) Does she punch, or does she channel her inner Floyd Mayweather and make sure Bernie can’t hit her cleanly?
I think she should try to finish him off. If she can win New York, ideally by at least a few points, it indicates the April 26 states will go well too. It takes air out of the room, reducing his coverage for that week. Hillary is also ahead in every poll in those states.
Push, finish this, and limit the exposure Bernie gets over the next several weeks. That will enable Hillary to pivot to Trump and Cruz if she wants or to stay relatively quiet and in the shadows if she would prefer. It’s quite likely her best path to winning over swing voters is to let them hear more Trump/Cruz and less Hillary.
How to do this….
In previous debates, she’s gone on the attack for a segment, but not the whole show. This time she should prepare a whole series of attacks and shift back and forth from being challenging to reasonable to keep him off balance. The pressure is on him. He needs to score.
Throw enough feints, jab here and there and eventually he’ll step into a punch. There’s the issue from last week, his interview with the NY Daily News editorial board, where he struggled with details on breaking up the banks, one of the signature planks in his campaign.
Hillary excels in discussing detail. You don’t always pay that much attention, but it sounds like she knows what she’s talking about and has complete and total command of the details. Bernie clearly prefers general principles. Press him on this and see what happens.
She can make a gender play, bring up him calling her unqualified again. The moderator will probably do this for her, but her pre-existing “I’ve been called many things, but unqualified isn’t one of them” line is adequate when she weighs in. Any amount of time Bernie spends digging out from this is a chance for him to say the wrong thing or come off as condescending.
Hillary can bring up the Vatican trip. The pope apparently didn’t actually invite him to the conference. It’s at least in question. Another thing for him to explain, another way to put him on the defensive. Another way to contrast her experience as secretary of state, with him looking like a kid with his nose pressed up against the candy store window.
Her best line of attack is effectiveness. Bernie likes talking about being correct. He fought against the Iraq War. He objected to doing away with the Glass-Steagall rules governing banks and brokerages, yada, yada, yada.
There are at least twenty of these examples. Everyone was pushing for something. Bernie led the fight to stop it. History proved him right. Often Hillary was on the other side or took too long to decide, or switched sides.
The catch is he always lost. The Iraq War happened. Twice. Americans think the first one turned out better than the second, but he tried to stop both. And failed.
So far, Hillary has said he’s being unrealistic. The problem with that is his supporters, all of whom she needs in November, disagree. As his platform is increasingly better known, undecided or leaning Democrats are finding them more plausible.
Repetition helps. A world with front runner Donald Trump moves the goalposts on what’s reasonable. Rather than portraying him as unrealistic, she should frame him as incapable. Want Bernie’s dream to come true? Vote Hillary.
Put him on the defensive about his actual accomplishments. We know Hillary’s actual record isn’t quite how she portrays it, but most Denocrats think she’s very accomplished. Plus the resume is great, even if the references are biased.
If Bernie can get through this gauntlet, he’s a better candidate and debater than most people think. At least Hillary would have kept him on defense and prevented him from setting the agenda.
A New York loss is potentially extremely damaging. It’s not worth the risk of giving him an opening. Unless Hillary’s internals are showing a much bigger lead than Siena College is, she should hit him early and often and from many angles.