I want to strongly endorse everything Daniel Larison says in his post on the Democratic Party’s resilience, both this:
The Democratic Party has long been “a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement,” but that hasn’t stopped it from winning the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. It cobbles together majorities by being “sprawling” and “heterogenous,” and doesn’t depend on a particular nominee to do this. The extremely narrow margin of Bush’s re-election in 2004 points to this. Democrats have a coalition of competing, sometimes opposing interest groups and constituencies, but then they usually don’t pretend to be anything other than that. One of the stranger conceits that many Republicans have about their party is that it is a so-called “real party”: it supposedly represents some coherent set of beliefs that makes it substantially different from being an “incoherent amalgam” of interest groups. Perhaps because Democrats don’t try to paper over the contradictions and tensions in their coalition as much, they are able to appeal to a wider variety of voters than their opponents.
I don’t see any likely challenger capable of depriving Clinton of the nomination, but the Democrats would almost certainly benefit from having one or more candidates make the attempt. Like Romney in the last Republican contest, Clinton appears dreadfully inevitable with built-in advantages in name recognition, fundraising, and support from party leaders, and unlike Romney her party’s voters genuinely seem to like her. Even so, if she faced no meaningful competition and no serious criticism while coasting to the nomination, it would very likely depress turnout in the general election and it would encourage complacency and a sense of entitlement in a Clinton crowd that is very susceptible to both.
I would add only one thing: not only would the Democrats benefit, but the country would benefit from a serious, if almost certainly futile, challenge to Clinton – specifically, on foreign policy issues.
Hillary Clinton is going to run as an extremely hawkish Democrat, because that’s who she actually is. This is not what the country needs, and probably not what the country wants, but it may well be what the country is going to get.
If Clinton runs essentially unopposed in the Democratic primary, and faces a mainstream Republican in the fall, voters will likely have a choice between two hawks. A candidate like Marco Rubio might actually enable Clinton to portray herself as a moderate centrist by comparison; a Jeb Bush will try to avoid foreign policy altogether for fear of reminding the country of his brother’s disastrous record. Rand Paul would be able to run to Clinton’s “left” on foreign policy, but (a) he’s unlikely to win the nomination, and (b) the Clinton-Paul contrast on economic policy would be so dramatic that it might devour everything else.
There’s good reason, therefore, for voters who favor a more restrained foreign policy to hope that Clinton faces at least token opposition in the primaries focused primarily on that issue. Then there would at least be one forum where the topic would be raised, and raised seriously, for Clinton to address. In the best-case scenario, such opposition would get more press attention than it deserved, which would force Clinton to make some kind of gesture to placate the doves in her coalition.
More generally, this forms part of my argument why voters concerned about a particular issue should always work both sides of the aisle, and not commit themselves to ideological identification with a particular party. Hawks certainly don’t – and doves shouldn’t either, not if they want to advance their cause.