During February’s Democratic primary debate, Hillary Clinton tactfully parried Bernie Sanders’ attacks on her relationship with Henry Kissinger, whom he called “one of the most destructive secretaries of state of the modern era.” Now, six months later, Clinton has reportedly reached out to Kissinger, and to a growing number of Republicans disdained by progressives who she hopes will endorse her over Republican Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, the Clinton campaign launched “Together for America,” an initiative to recruit GOP endorsements, and announced support from nearly 50 Republicans, including George W. Bush’s former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The announcement came two days after Politico reported, citing a person close to Clinton, that the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign reached out to Kissinger and Bush’s former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
The moves are part of a larger strategy to peel away Republican votes from those put off by Trump. According to a Bloomberg Politics national poll released Wednesday, 87 percent of Republicans say they will support Trump, while 94 percent of Democrats say they will back Clinton in November.
“I am humbled and moved by the Republicans who are willing to stand up and say that Donald Trump does not represent their values,” Clinton said at a Wednesday rally in Des Moines, Iowa.
Clinton’s vocal courtship of disaffected Republicans, as well as the muted response from the left, implies that her campaign sees room in her bipartisan coalition for both liberals and supporters of an aggressive foreign policy.
“Hillary Clinton asking some Republicans to say Trump isn't fit to be president is not mutually exclusive with her running on bold progressive ideas like debt-free college, expanding Social Security benefits, and Wall Street reform,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots organizing group.
Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and Sanders surrogate, said she didn't mind Republicans backing Clinton to protest Trump, but is concerned the endorsements may come at a price.
“If it means that they're endorsing because they can't stomach Mr. Trump, then that's one thing. But if their endorsement comes with some strings attached ... to me that's when it becomes problematic,” she said.
Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America, a political action committee, said Clinton needs to engage and excite the party’s grass-roots activists so they’ll raise money, knock on doors, and actively campaign for her.
“It’s worrisome,” he said. “When you’re reaching out to one of the architects of the George Bush foreign policy or the Iraq War named Rice, that is not a way to prove to the base Democrats across America that you’re fighting for progressive values.”
The strongest critics of her outreach effort are those who were never likely to back her. Medea Benjamin, the executive director of anti-war group Code Pink and a Sanders-turned-Jill-Stein supporter, said there was “nothing” Clinton could do to make her feel comfortable about her foreign policy as president. “Like most Americans I’m just still scratching my head of how did we end up with these two horrible candidates,” Benjamin said.
Despite her opposition to Trump, she said she agreed that the U.S. should have a less confrontational relationship with Russia. “People who would be supportive of what I would consider to be a more progressive foreign policy … want to hear Hillary talk about diplomacy, they want to hear about not getting us further entrenched in these wars,” Benjamin said. “They want to hear that she would use diplomacy first, second, and third.”
Clinton supporters say that her common ground with Republicans stems from a shared sense that Trump isn't qualified to be president, not from policy agreements.
“You have a lot of senior Republican officials who both are so worried about Trump that they think it would be better if she were elected and, frankly, they think it's better for their own brand that they not be seen to be supporting Trump,” said Heather Hurlburt, the director of New Models of Policy Change at the New America Foundation.
Hurlbert, who advises the Clinton campaign on foreign policy, said she believes that the perception that Clinton is a hawk comes from a limited definition of what foreign policy includes.
“There is a swath of the left that reduced international affairs to the Iraq vote,” she said. “What the left tends to overlook is how much Clinton has done to promote U.S. progressive domestic policies overseas.” If elected, Clinton would work to promote the Democratic Party’s domestic-policy goals—like family planning, gender equality, and gay rights—abroad, Hurlbert said. Trump wouldn't.
Trump has, at times, tried to run to Clinton’s left on foreign policy. He has claimed, falsely, that he was one of the earliest critics of the Iraq War. After 50 former national security officials signed a letter denouncing him, he released a statement blaming them, and Clinton, for the state of the world today.
“These insiders—along with Hillary Clinton—are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq, allow Americans to die in Benghazi, and they are the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS,” Trump said on Twitter.
But just as the threat of Trump has led Republicans to distance themselves from the candidate, it’s a stronger motivating factor for Democrats than Clinton’s Iraq war vote.
“Given the alternative of ‘carpet bombing’ and ‘blow them off the face of the Earth,’ the incredibly dangerous rhetoric … of Donald Trump, they are more comfortable with Hillary Clinton,” Democratic strategist Penny Lee said of progressive voters. Lee said that while some Democrats might be “disturbed” if Kissinger endorses Clinton, they’re also familiar with her foreign policy.
“They’ve already factored that into their calculus,” she said. “They know that piece of her.”