Jacob Heilbrunn concludes that Hillary Clinton stands to benefit greatly from last week’s Republican blowout:
It’s all good news for Hillary Clinton, the ever more likely successor to Obama in the White House. The Republicans won’t have the advantage of being the ‘not-Obama party’ in 2016; if anything that trump will be Hillary’s to play.
Heilbrunn expects this in part because he thinks “angry voters ricochet from one party to the other in successive elections,” so that voters will be bouncing back in the Democrats’ direction two years from now. It’s quite possible that a GOP with additional power will remind the public why it shouldn’t be given unified control of government. Then again, one would think that the not-so-distant experience of unified Republican government would have dissuaded voters from giving the party control of anything for a long time, but just the opposite has happened. Both parties have had brief stints of unified government over the last decade and a half, and both times it produced major backlashes that proved that neither one could hold both Congress and the White House for very long. It could be that a near-unbreakable hold on at least one house of Congress will be a real disadvantage for the next Republican nominee. If the GOP seems likely to retain control of both houses, that could help the Democratic nominee by making a vote for continuity in the White House seem like a desirable check on the power of the party dominating Congress. Then again, we wouldn’t normally expect sixth-year repudiations of the president’s party to be followed by the election of the nominee from the same party. It is hard to see how any Democratic presidential candidate would benefit from having their party beaten as thoroughly as it was last week.
In order to make the argument for keeping the White House under Democratic control, it would probably be necessary for the Democratic nominee to be seen as continuing and building upon the president’s agenda rather than running as the “anti-Obama.” Insofar as Clinton really is a “not Obama” candidate in terms of both policy and personality, it will be very difficult for her to do that. Indeed, she and her allies may be inclined to present her candidacy as a corrective to whatever mistakes she thinks Obama has made. However, running as the heir to Obama carries with it the problem that Obama’s approval rating remains mediocre and is unlikely to improve very much in the remaining two years. If 2016 voters want an anti-Obama candidate, why wouldn’t they just vote for the Republican? If voters prefer Obama’s policies, but want better and more competent management, it is not obvious that Clinton can credibly promise to offer the latter, either.
No matter how the nominee chooses to campaign, any Democratic nominee would be weighed down by the mediocre approval ratings of a president from his or her own party. That would seem to go double for someone that served four years in his administration. It is also hard to see how the president’s approval rating is going to be helped by two more years of constant and probably unsuccessful struggle with a Republican Congress. Voters may tire of unified government quickly, but it seems reasonable to expect that they will be more disgusted with gridlock in the months leading up to the presidential election. That makes the prospect of continued divided government less appealing.
Further, most voters may have grown fatigued of having the Democrats in control of the White House by the time it comes to vote in 2016. In order to make the prospect of at least another four years of a Democratic president interesting, the party would probably need to put forward a fresh candidate with new ideas, but that is the opposite of what Clinton’s candidacy will be. The very inevitability of Clinton’s nomination reeks of stagnation and intellectual exhaustion. So it’s possible that some other Democratic candidate might have been able to translate recent Republican success into a clear political advantage for the next election, but Clinton appears to be uniquely ill-suited to do that. That doesn’t mean that she won’t win in 2016, but it does mean that she is in a considerably worse position now than she was six months or a year ago.