Jim Webb Thinks He Can Beat Hillary Clinton

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Nov 30, 2014 5:15 PM
Jim Webb Thinks He Can Beat Hillary Clinton

In a previous post, Jim Webb announced he is establishing an exploratory committee for a possible 2016 run. Given Clinton’s vast ties within her political machine, it seems hard to envision a 2016 primary season where she loses, but she did lose to an insurgent candidate named Barack Obama in 2008; Obama trailed her in the polls by 30 points at the time.

Her unofficial political team is already posturing, saying Clinton could net 386 electoral votes in 2016. One could posit that this is a tacit acknowledgement of Clinton's vulnerability. After all, she’s a bad campaigner, her books sales were lackluster to say the least, and she’s nothing like Obama in the sense of being something completely different from the underbelly of the Democratic Party–nor does she bring an aura of change that captivates a nation. She will also be nearly 70 when–or if–she subjects herself to the burdensome and tortuous life of a national campaign.

Jim Webb, former Democratic Senator, thinks he has what it takes to beat Clinton. Hillary is vying for the white, working class voters that have flocked to the GOP in past elections; Webb thinks he can compete, or even win, with this demographic as well. Yet, besides the southern Democrat, supposedly moderate appeal Webb has; he’s also angling for a populist narrative–something the Clinton camp could have trouble disseminating to voters.

Clinton’s “dead broke” gaffe was seen as nothing short of disastrous; everyone knows the earning potential for ex-presidents and their families are phenomenal. This, coupled with Clinton’s cozy relationship with Wall Street and the financial sector, could be a wedge that Webb could exploit (via the New Yorker):

He laid out a view of Wall Street that differs sharply from Clinton’s.

“Because of the way that the financial sector dominates both parties, the distinctions that can be made on truly troubling issues are very minor,” he said. He told a story of an effort he led in the Senate in 2010 to try to pass a windfall-profits tax that would have targeted executives at banks and firms which were rescued by the government after the 2008 financial crisis. He said that when he was debating whether to vote for the original bailout package, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, he relied on the advice of an analyst on Wall Street, who told him, “No. 1, you have to do this, because otherwise the world economy will go into cataclysmic free fall. But, No. 2, you have to punish these guys. It is outrageous what they did.”

After the rescue, when Webb pushed for what he saw as a reasonable punishment, his own party blocked the legislation. “The Democrats wouldn’t let me vote on it,” he said. “Because either way you voted on that, you’re making somebody mad. And the financial sector was furious.” He added that one Northeastern senator—Webb wouldn’t say who—“was literally screaming at me on the Senate floor.”

When Clinton was a New York senator, from 2001 to 2009, she fiercely defended the financial industry, which was a crucial source of campaign contributions and of jobs in her state. “If you don’t have stock, and a lot of people in this country don’t have stock, you’re not doing very well,” Webb said. Webb is a populist, but a cautious one, especially on taxes, the issue that seems to have backfired against O’Malley’s administration. As a senator, Webb frustrated some Democrats because he refused to raise individual income-tax rates. But as President, he says, he would be aggressive about taxing income from investments: “Fairness says if you’re a hedge-fund manager or making deals where you’re making hundreds of millions of dollars and you’re paying capital-gains tax on that, rather than ordinary income tax, something’s wrong, and people know something’s wrong. ”

Webb said. “A lot of the Democratic leaders who don’t want to scare away their financial supporters will say we’re going to raise the minimum wage, we’re going do these little things, when in reality we need to say we’re going to fundamentally change the tax code so that you will believe our system is fair.”

On prison reform, Webb studied Japan’s low recidivism rate to bring about changes within our own system that he says prevents ex-convicts from rebuilding their lives. The article noted that the prison population exploded when President Clinton signed new tough sentencing laws.

If there’s one thing that will split progressives on Hillary, it’s the Iraq War. She voted for it–and the left has never fully forgiven her for that. Webb is a Vietnam veteran, was Secretary of the Navy, and thinks the Obama-Clinton ways of doing business abroad isn't much of a blueprint :

He [Webb] thinks Obama, Clinton, and Power made things worse by intervening in Libya. “There’s three factions,” he said. “The John McCains of the world, who want to intervene everywhere. Then the people who cooked up this doctrine of humanitarian intervention, including Samantha Power, who don’t think they need to come to Congress if there’s a problem that they define as a humanitarian intervention, which could be anything. That doctrine is so vague.” Webb also disdains liberals who advocate military intervention without understanding the American military. Referring to Syria and Libya, Webb said, “I was saying in hearings at the time, What is going to replace it? What is going to replace the Assad regime? These are tribal countries. Where are all these weapons systems that Qaddafi had? Probably in Syria. Can you get to the airport at Tripoli today? Probably not. It was an enormous destabilizing impact with the Arab Spring.”

Early on as a senator, Webb championed the idea of the so-called “pivot to Asia,” a rebalancing of America’s strategic and diplomatic posture from the Middle East to the Far East—an idea that Obama and Clinton subsequently adopted. Webb pushed Secretary of State Clinton to open up relations with Burma, a policy that Clinton includes in her recent book, “Hard Choices,” as a major achievement. (Obama is travelling to Burma this week.) When I raised the subject with Webb, he seemed annoyed that he hadn’t received adequate credit for the Burma policy. People who know him well suggest that part of what’s motivating him to consider a primary challenge to Clinton is his sense that she hasn’t expressed the proper gratitude.

So, here's the narrative that’s forming here: Hillary is wrong on war, wrong on Wall Street; I, Jim Webb, gave her the idea to rebalance our position in Asia, and tried to punish the folks who hurt “Main Street.” Hillary sounds like she's an Obama-lite candidate; something that voters will not be enthused to hear about.

With Obama’s dismal approval numbers and voters yearning for something new after eight years, Webb could fill that void and become a formidable anti-Clinton candidate.

On the other hand, As Josh Kraushaar at National Journal  wrote, the Democratic Party has become a smaller, more ideologically homogeneous party on social issues, not economic ones; and they’re the issues that gain traction with the liberal base. While he admits that Webb is a good candidate on paper, he will never survive the culture shock that has occurred within the ranks of liberal Democrats after eight years of Obama.

Regardless, it should be interesting what happens in the next two years. It’s about time Democrats duke it out leave each other beaten, bruised, and bloodied in a primary process.

Oh, and one last note on Hillary’s vulnerability; she’s virtually tied with Romney in a head-to-head presidential match up–and that’s with a 13-point gender gap with women voters.  Mittmentum Part II?  What is going on?


This image courtesy of Quinnipiac