After Hillary: Are the Democrats ready to move beyond Clintonism?

Hillary Clinton was back in Washington the other day, giving a speech to a women’s group.

“As we all stop to look fear in the face, the result has not only been action, but passion,” said the woman who nearly everyone thought would now be the nation’s first female president. “Never lose your optimism, your persistence and your resistance”—resistance, of course, being a key phrase for those opposing the man who beat Clinton.

Other than that, the only time I’ve seen Hillary’s image is when President Trump greeted a tour group at the White House and happened to stand next to a portrait of the former first lady.

There’s the occasional sighting at a Broadway play or during a walk in the Chappaqua woods. But the woman who would now be dominating the news if 70,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had gone the other way is instead edging into the spotlight after a bitter defeat.

The question now: Has the Democratic Party moved on from Clintonism?

Both the left and right are asking that question as the party tries to rebuild in the Trump era. I have no idea who might emerge for 2020, given the strikingly thin bench, or whether the party wants to go further left or try to recapture the working-class voters that it lost to Trump.

It seems the Democrats haven’t really had that debate, even with the low-profile chairman’s race won by Tom Perez. But some in the media are starting to examine the rubble left by 2016.

It’s not that Hillary herself has a political future. In a Rasmussen poll, 58 percent of likely voters don’t want her to run again, while 23 percent would like to see that.

But a Clinton-like candidate might face the same lack of excitement for a program of incrementally improving government, even without her flaws as a candidate.

On the other hand, a Bernie-style populist could connect on issues like trade, but might simply be too liberal to win a general election.

Bill Clinton, as it happens, gave a talk yesterday that chastised Trump without naming him, using such code words as "nation-state":

“The whole history of humankind is basically the definition of who is us and who is them,” the former president said. He said some people--the guy who defeated his wife?--“have found more political success and met the deep psychic needs people have had to feel that their identity requires them to be juxtaposed against someone else.”

What’s interesting is how Salon sees Clinton as having blundered by pretty much running as the anti-Trump:

“Of all the strategic blunders made by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the most consequential — apart from neglecting the Rust Belt states — may have been the campaign’s ill-advised decision to portray Donald Trump as an outlier in the GOP who did not represent true Republican values.

“In the early stages of her campaign, Clinton went out of her way to defend the Grand Old Party’s reputation and highlight some of the conservative critiques of Trump, so as to emphasize her opponent’s uniquely ‘deplorable’ nature.”

That “backfired spectacularly,” the piece says, by alienating progressives and boosting Trump’s underdog status.

Here’s the money part:

“The grand irony here, of course, is that liberals — not leftists — are the ones who have started to sound increasingly like alt-right conspiracy theorists. While alt-right Info-Warriors spew their conspiracy theories about the deep state’s planning a coup against Trump or about former President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of Trump Tower, liberals have gone in the other direction, embracing their own overwrought conspiracy theories with an all-powerful Vladimir Putin at the center of it all.

“But Putin is not responsible for the Democratic Party’s losing control of nearly 1,000 state legislature seats and all three branches of government during the Obama years.”

National Review, by contrast, thinks the party remains in the Clintonian grasp:

“If you want to understand why Donald Trump is in the White House, you only need to glance at Hillary Clinton. She was a grim and mediocre candidate. She inspired few. She terrified many. And yet, in certain circles, this reckoning has failed to sink in. Meanwhile, the Clinton hagiography continues.”

But the argument seems to rest on some attention being paid to Chelsea Clinton’s tweets. Such as this one about Trump’s planned EPA cutbacks: “How is clean water controversial? Who thinks it’s ok for anyone to drink toxic water? Truly asking as I just don’t get it.”

Chelsea can say whatever she wants, but I don’t see her as a future party leader. This piece, however, says “2017’s odd Clinton-related frenzy reflects something more: Namely, the failure of the Left to recognize their Hillary problem.”

No one knows what the political landscape will be like after four years of Trump. But if the Democrats think they can win back the White House just by running against him, as opposed to offering a positive alternative, they will be repeating Hillary’s mistake.