Republicans Are Right to Fear Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is attracting a lot of Republican attention -- with good reason.
Hillary Clinton, and some of the women who adore her. Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A lot of Republicans seem to have Hillary Clinton on the brain this week. Bloomberg News's Jonathan Allen wrote:

Two prospective presidential Republican rivals have taken shots at her. Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave her an "F" as secretary of state. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul raised the specter of Monica Lewinsky. And just this week, Rush Limbaugh said she didn't designate Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, as a terrorist organization because many of the group's members are black.

And, of course, noted pathologist Dr. Karl Rove suggested this week that Clinton might have grave health problems and probably ought to sit the next one out, or at least detail her "30 days in the hospital" (which actually amounted to three days). Meanwhile, there is another round of Benghazi hearings on the horizon because Republicans need more time to get to the bottom of it.

Democrats say the hearings are all about Republicans stirring up the base for November. But maybe not. As CNN reported, the Republican base is already pretty well stirred. Perhaps there's no harm in Republicans keeping the base buzzing with animosity for President Barack Obama, but Benghazi's application in 2014 seems less powerful than its potential utility in 2016.

New Benghazi hearings will create new testimony and introduce additional documents. Some of that testimony and documentation will conflict, in some way or another, with previous testimony and documentation. The discrepancies will be deeply disturbing to Republican legislators. They will assert that only one person in the world is capable of clearing up the mysteries and telling the American people what really happened: But she refuses to tell us the truth.

Rinse, repeat.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Rove's concern for Clinton's health, and Republican lawmakers' abiding interest in the tragedy in Libya, is not entirely free of political calculation. Instead, assume that both are reflections of their fear of Clinton's expected presidential candidacy in 2016.

Is so much quaking justified?

Could be. It's impossible to predict how Clinton would fare -- including whether her health could be a legitimate issue or not -- but she just might be able to deliver the electoral knockout that Obama couldn't.

Consider Obama's winning coalition, more or less consisting of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, youth and white liberals. Unless black turnout takes a precipitous fall, or large numbers of Hispanics transfer allegiance to Republicans, that coalition should be slightly larger in 2016 than it was in 2012. Asians were 3 percent of the vote in 2012, and are the nation's fastest growing group. Like Asians, Hispanics voted 2-to-1 for Obama in 2012. And 50,000 more turn 18 every month.

Democrats have been actively courting non-college-educated white women for two decades. Obama flopped with them. According to a report by Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, in 2012 Romney crushed Obama among white working-class women by 20 points, 59 percent to 39 percent. Obama lost college-educated white women to Romney by six points, said Teixeira, an analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Clinton, by contrast, does exceedingly well with college-educated white women. According to researchers at the Gallup Organization, her favorable/unfavorable ratio among them in a February poll was 66/32. (Her overall ratio in the poll was 59/37.) Her rating among non-college-educated white women was a down-to-earth, 49/48. Altogether, Teixeira said, white women make up about 38 percent of the electorate.

But listen to Ronald Brownstein, writing in 2013, on Obama's dismal showing among white voters in 2012.

In 2012, Obama won a smaller share of white Catholics than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1980; lost groups ranging from white seniors to white women to white married and blue-collar men by the widest margin of any Democrat since Ronald Reagan routed Walter Mondale in 1984; and even lost among Democratic-leaning college-educated women by the widest margin since Michael Dukakis in 1988, according to the latest National Journal analysis of the trends that shape the allegiances of American voters.

It's hard to believe Clinton wouldn't surpass that showing almost across the board -- and especially among white women. In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary in Ohio, Clinton won the state with 53 percent of the vote. She beat Obama among white women, however, by 67-to-31. In the Democratic primary in Virginia, another general-election swing state, Clinton was crushed by Obama, losing the state almost two-to-one. Yet she still beat Obama among white women, 53-to-47.

Clinton has the potential retain Obama's coalition -- already a winner -- and add a large white component to it. Barring a Republican policy revolution (miracle?) or a Republican opponent with extra appeal to Hispanics, her losses among Democratic constituencies seem unlikely to negate potential gains among white women. Even immigration reform -- in the improbable (but still possible!) event the House can deliver it -- is likely to do only so much for Republicans in two years.

If you subtract white women from the Republican column, and add them to the Democratic column, the Romney campaign will look like good times. The election is still a long, long way away. But Clinton just might be able to do that.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

    To contact the author on this story:
    Frank Wilkinson at

    To contact the editors on this story:
    Frank Wilkinson at
    Toby Harshaw at

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