Donald Trump has been winning votes in places and with constituencies that the Democrats usually win in presidential races. Bernie Sanders has been winning votes that in the past went to Hillary. Both men have understood the dynamics of a political landscape transformed by the rise of the unprotected. Both understand that the great majority of non-elite Americans – those outside the 1% – live with varying degrees and kinds of fear. They have seen administration after administration, whichever party, remain complacent with erosion of America's place in the world, increasing inequality, loss of jobs and decay of basic infrastructure. Prospects for a better future – if not for themselves, for their children – seem to have gone up in smoke. Hillary Clinton has her core constituency of minorities but her ability to gather in those who have been voting for Trump and Sanders – working/middle class whites and the young – is very much open to question.
In part, Trump has prospered on the Republican side because of the ideological rigidity and uninspiring nature of his opponents. Clinton has been able to keep the lead on the Democratic side because of her establishment support and core constituencies. Whether the Republican establishment likes it or not, Trump has seized their party. The Democrats appear stuck with Hillary. Sanders may well have a better chance of beating Trump by keeping the traditional Democratic base while adding the young and inspired. Perhaps the party will yet grab hold of itself – what if Sanders won California? – and switch the super-delegates to Bernie. But otherwise, it will have to go into the November race with an uncharismatic, widely disliked, upholder of the establishment.
How might Hillary nevertheless win? She would have to meet Trump issue by issue with specific, focused plans to actually deal with the challenges that he only promises to overcome by merely being Trump.
Top of the list are jobs and free trade. Both parties' long adherence to the free-trade religion has clearly led to the shifting of American jobs abroad. The supposed benefits have included a plethora of imported “cheaper” goods that the working/middle class must struggle to buy with the wages of the lower paying service jobs left them. Clinton might instead call for a moratorium on free-trade agreements – including the TPP – and a re-evaluation of all existing such agreements (except for NAFTA which remains a vital part of our own neighborhood). Trade agreements that benefit far-off workers in repressive regimes – and thus help keep such regimes in power – should be special targets for possibly rolling back. Re-visiting free-trade would be accompanied by a re-industrialization program to support the creation of jobs in the productive sectors that could be competitive provided with limited government support and perhaps protective tariffs. Free-traders would offer many objections but the country at large is living with the reality that free-trade globalization may have been premature.
Clinton might also go beyond platitudes about re-building America by offering a detailed outline of infrastructure spending. Our drinking-water systems, city streets and mass transport systems, inter-city rails, highways, bridges, tunnels and waterways all need repair or replacement. Areas prone to sea-level and climate change need to be identified and communities, places and activities perhaps re-configured or relocated. Everywhere-wireless internet access might be built. All these would create good jobs and add value to our economy.
Clinton might outline detailed plans to curtail the ability of “Wall Street” – too-big-to-fail financial activities and entities – to cause or heighten economic recessions. She might also commit to seeking legislation (and Supreme Court nominees) that will reduce the role of money in our elections and enable universal voter participation. She might also decide to fund her campaign only from direct fundraising from individual small donors.
Finally, Clinton might take on directly the longstanding Republican attack on government. Government is our collective capability to act on our collective behalf. It is not the “enemy.” She should definitively eschew the sort of “triangulation” that looks to “compromise” with every 1% -inspired effort to cut government spending and target entitlements. This also means taking on the debt-issue. The US prints the world's money and there is no competitor yet on the scene. Taxes on the well-off could be raised considerably without scaring them away. (The US is still the best place on earth to enjoy your money.) Clinton might also combine a continued commitment to a strong US defense with a commitment to look again at our need for such things as $13 billion aircraft carriers and expensive equipment and weapons that are seldom used or don't work or cost as promised.
In the general election, Trump will be the transformation candidate in the narrowest sense of trying to convince American voters that he himself is all the transformation they need. If she gets the nomination, Hillary Clinton may have to become the candidate of real, detailed plans for transformation in order to win in November.