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Republicans Finally Move Left: Hillary and Tea Party to Meet in the Middle

05/18/2015 08:37 am ET | Updated May 18, 2016
Andrew Burton via Getty Images

The Republicans have finally figured out how to break out of the self-imposed political strait-jacket (pun intended) caused by the dominance of nutty right-wingers. If you need reminding, remember the recent Jade Helm hoo-hah, and the "legitimate rape" and "self-deportation" memes of old.

Their novel approach is to pepper the Internet with left-leaning blogs and tweets. This includes Karl Rove paying for Elizabeth Warren ads, and Homer Simpson criticizing lobbyists for the Keystone Pipeline, and more.

If this were an attempt to support moderate Republicans, there might be something in it for Dems to worry about. The best thing Dems having going in 2016 is a field of Republican presidential candidates who are being pulled inexorably to the far right by the likes of Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and others. It's a repeat of 2012 when any chance Mitt Romney had with swing voters vanished as he abandoned his centrist record in order to win primaries. A sensible Republican strategy in 2016 would include a little attention to income inequality and the good done by Social Security and Medicare, and abandonment of the failed policy of economic austerity.

No such luck. It turns out this organized left-wing campaign is the brain-child of the organized corporate right and is not intended to moderate Republican candidates. It's intended to weaken Hillary Clinton. With her liberal base.

"The idea is to make her life difficult in the primary and challenge her from the left", said Colin Reed, the head of America Rising, a corporate/rightie strategic outfit. The Rove-ish Steven Law of American Crossroads, chimed in: "It can diminish enthusiasm for Hillary among the base over time. And if you diminish enthusiasm, lukewarm support can translate into lackluster fund-raising and perhaps diminished turnout down the road."

Any idea is better than no idea. Usually. Hillary does have, and deserves, problems with some constituencies on the left. If they persist, she will win primaries with 70 percent of the vote instead of 80 percent. That is not a strategy for Republican victory.

A successful anti-Hillary effort needs more than Bernie Sanders, as admirable as he may be. A real third-party effort by a credible progressive, now that's a problem. Remember Norman Thomas? Or Eugene Victor Debs? Or better yet remember Ralph Nader, who single-handedly elected George W?

There's where the politics of attacking Hillary from the left breaks down. Progressive Democrats are scarred by their dalliance with Nader in 2000, and the margins it gave Bush in several key states. Two wars and an economic crash later, it just doesn't seem likely that the mistake will be repeated.

There's a real progressive critique of the Clintons to be made. Hillary is aware of it, and is taking political steps to shore up her left flank. (See last weeks post on Hillary and Joseph Stiglitz). But trying to create a genuine political problem by having right-wingers tweet messages they don't believe to progressives who know what's going on? That's a prescription for irrelevance.

Republicans can address their political dilemma only if they address their political dilemma. It's not impossible. Note Mike Huckabee's carefully articulated support for entitlement programs. But the Republicans are being held back by ideas, not by Hillary. They are mired in anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, pro-economic austerity, pro-military adventure, pro-gun, anti-environment, pro-corporation, pro-1% ideas that the American electorate doesn't favor. Until that yoke is lifted, they will not pose a serious electoral alternative to Clintonian triangulation.