Before parsing Hillary Clinton’s recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, meditate on three things. One: About 80 miles west of Texas A&M lies the Hutto Residential Center, a detention facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and one of the many sites of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy. Two: Several weeks ago, the New York Times began reporting that Customs and Border Protection was detaining Iranian-Americans at the Canadian border for secondary inspections. Three: To this day, a Muslim Ban remains in effect.
Be moved, but do not panic, for much of the damage Trump has inflicted was accomplished through executive fiat. That means most of it can be rescinded on day one of a Democratic administration — any Democratic administration. So what, then, accounts for Clinton’s initial refusal to endorse Bernie Sanders were he to win the Democratic nomination? What happened to “Donald Trump is an existential threat to America”? What happened to “Blue, no matter who”?
It doesn’t matter. Losing sight of that goal — whatever the cause — is reason to panic.
The 67th Secretary of State later walked back her statement. “Hillary Clinton clarifies that she will support the Democratic nominee — even if it’s Bernie Sanders” reads one CNN headline. Leaving aside whether one “clarifies” a statement when they reverse it, the interview recalls a dust-up two months ago, when Politico reported that “if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him.” To be sure, the moments have their distinctions — Obama made his intimation privately and has never publicly wavered from supporting the eventual nominee. However, both faux pas have this in common: they provide redundant evidence of Democrats’ dearth of discipline.
Discipline, according Bobby Knight, the famed Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach, is doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it, the way it’s supposed to be done. Strategy, it follows, is defining what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it and the way it’s supposed to be done. Whose strategy was being executed (yes, executed is the right word) when our elder statesmen — two of the most visible members of our party — were expressing strong reservations about one of the contestants in our party’s primary? Leave those complaints to the primary contenders. The job of Clinton and Obama is to coronate the Democratic nominee. They should do it when it becomes clear that primary voters have made their choice. They should endorse and campaign for the nominee with as much vigor as they can muster.
All Democrats should enthusiastically support the nominee. But we aren’t going to do that, are we? Heaven forbid Sanders wins. We’ll be too busy relitigating 2016. We’ll be philosophizing about whether he did enough to quell some of his supporters, or whether he could have done more campaign stops with Clinton, or whether he should have had a better demeanor at the 2016 convention, or whether…
Sanders isn’t this writer’s preferred candidate, but this is clear: as a family member once said at Thanksgiving, Democrats have principles; Republicans have objectives. It’s one of the quintessential differences between how our parties perform politics. It’s also why Republicans win more often than they lose: objectives beat principles every time. Goals give you something for which to aim. They give coalitions something to build around. Most importantly, when combined with an understanding of the available resources, it provides the framework of a strategy that teams can perform with daring discipline.
Democrats’ first objective — the objective from which we cannot waver, even at our weakest moments — is to win in November. To accomplish this we must rally — not limp, but rally — around the Democratic nominee. Anything short of that will be insufficient, still more evidence that we are more bark than bite.
That’s why Clinton’s reversal wasn’t enough. In fairness, that isn’t her fault. “I will support the eventual nominee” is so often repeated it has become less a mantra and more a cliche. It doesn’t rise to the moment. It smacks of something that Democrats could have said four years ago when Jeb Bush was the likely Republican nominee and our biggest fears were cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Better would be something more succinct, something that would stir the passions, something that had a little history behind it and would capture the importance of coming together to defeat what those on the left — and many on the right — have argued is our generation’s existential threat to democracy.
Try this: Join, or die.
It’s an old’un but a good’un.