The Democrat Hillary Clinton should fear the most has no chance of winning the party's presidential nomination.And that is why if former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb somehow, perhaps even on a whim, decides to enter the 2016 field, he would pose the biggest problem for Clinton, who returns to Iowa for the first time on Sunday since her 2008 debacle when she appears with her husband at Sen. Tom Harkin's final Steak Fry.
Webb, who refused to run for reelection after his only Senate term, would have nothing to lose. Freed from the interest groups and power brokers that he loathes and reluctantly played ball with in the Senate, he would instantly bracket Clinton from the right on cultural issues and the left on economic issues.
He could hammer Clinton on Benghazi like Jerry Brown pestered her husband about Whitewater--one can argue that Bill Clinton may never have been impeached had it not been for Brown's 1992 presidential campaign. And he would champion his brand of populism for working Americans, especially poor whites, that would force ethnic special interest groups that demand Democrats pander to them to face tough truths about diversity, amnesty, and affirmative action polices gone amok.
During a 26-minute interview in Iowa last month, Webb--who already has plenty of "street cred" for warning President George W. Bush against invading Iraq before Howard Dean electrified the anti-war left that four years later powered Obama to the nomination and speaking about income inequality long before anyone knew about Elizabeth Warren--displayed the combination of economic populism and cultural conservatism that would make him more than a nuisance to Team Clinton.
In that Iowa Press interview, Webb slammed Obama's executive actions as unprecedented and said he needed a whole show to critique all of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy failures, especially in the Middle East. Unlike Clinton, who took more than a week to issue a generic, bland and carefully crafted statement about Ferguson, Webb was unafraid to tell Democrats that they needed to be very careful before rushing to judgments. He also spoke about income inequality, saying "the stock market has almost tripled since March 2009" while "real income for workers actually has decreased in the same period."
How would Clinton respond if Webb hammered her associations with corporate America and her husband's centrist economic team that the left-wing despises? On Sunday, Harkin, the Steak Fry's host, told ABC's "This Week" that, "we're always nervous about people moving too far to the right." Harkin, who is retiring after his term ends, said "a lot of us believe the center ought to be moved back" because "the center has moved too far right." And Harkin said he once thought Obama, whose presidential ambitions were taken more seriously after his Steak Fry appearance in 2006, was a great populist but conceded "some things have happened" that has led him to question his initial
impressions. On NBC's "Meet The Press," a female Iowa Democrat blasted Clinton for her cronyism and ties to Wall Street and said her "progressive values" were more important to her than whether a female wins the nomination. Another Iowa Democrat accused Clinton of being "malleable" like Romney. In other words, she stands for nothing except whatever it takes to get elected.
One issue that represents arguably the biggest divide between the bipartisan permanent political class in Boomtown and the Acela Corridor and the more populist, pro-American worker sentiment in the rest of America is immigration. On immigration, would Webb's stance be that massive, unchecked immigration hurts the very blue-collar white workers that have been left behind and he champions? Would he blast Clinton, who reportedly asked the 1% in the Hamptons about how about "to tackle income inequality without alienating businesses or castigating the wealthy," for her connections to the financial elite that benefit from amnesty legislation? Would he call out union leaders for their hypocrisy on illegal immigration? Would he oppose amnesty in a party that increasingly panders to Latinos? Would he denounce massive increases in high-tech visas while there is a surplus of American high-tech workers when elite Democrats are asking Silicon Valley plutocrats for more donations?
In the 2008 Democratic primary, the late Tim Russert's questions about Clinton's support for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants arguably started Clinton's demise. And Webb's presence in debates could give Clinton even more fits on an issue that she has never handled particularly well as she painstakingly and carefully tries to calibrate every answer to not offend Hispanics and blue-collar whites.
The Redskins nickname controversy will surely be an issue, and Hillary Clinton and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, another potential candidate, have already said the team should change its name. What will the Virginian's position be on this cultural issue should he enter the fray? What would Webb have to say about the Second Amendment to activists who want to politicize every tragedy to push more gun control despite the wishes of the American people?
Webb won't win the nomination, of course. He said Obamacare would be a disaster before voting for it and then regretting it. He voted for TARP. He published an essay in which he argued that women can't fight (good luck in the party that loves to gin up the phony "war on women" rhetoric) and has some disturbingly filthy passages in his novels that opponents would surely use against him again. The left doesn't adore him like Warren. He lacks O'Malley's apple-polishing skills. And he just doesn't seem to like even campaigning.
But while all the other potential Democrats would be like uglier background dancers who are on stage to make Clinton more attractive, Webb's candidacy has the potential to make Clinton's life miserable, especially since Clinton is always the most uncomfortable when she tries to court liberals without offending moderates. And Webb--and his general unpredictability--has the potential to make Clinton seem more phony and out of touch.
The other Democrats won't pose such a threat.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who insists that she is not running, talks a big game against Wall Street but often comes across as a bumbling and timid politician who is already schooled in repeating talking points and filling up air time without saying anything. Warren won't be able to sweep the black vote like Obama did and she has shown no indication that she possesses the fortitude to even confront Clinton. All indications are that should Warren even challenge Clinton, she would be mousy and meek, despite the loud voices of her supporters.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the pandering plodder who is a hybrid of Bob McDonnell and Tim Pawlenty with advisers desperately trying to make him the elite media's favored candidate like Jon Huntsman, may run solely to show the country that there is someone more boring and uninspiring than Clinton.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) can be the court jester who entertains the easily distracted and vapid mainstream press who look down on Iowans and would rather be somewhere more "hip" and urbane, but she'll be no match for Clinton, who'll just stiff-arm her away and move along.
Vice President Joe Biden would make Clinton seem more coherent while Bernie Sanders only makes Clinton seem less "socialist" and zany.
California Governor Jerry Brown, who said illegal immigrants are "all welcome in California," could also decide on a whim to run and cause problems for Clinton in a state like Nevada. He could again torment the Clintons on the stump, but his 1992 candidacy actually shows why Webb would be more dangerous for Clinton. Benghazi is Clinton's Achilles' heel, and Webb can expose her liabilities like Brown did with Watergate, especially since Webb's loyalty has always been to veterans and those who fight--like he did--for the country's freedoms.
As the Chicago Tribune reported in March of 1992, "voters in Illinois and Michigan witnessed the nastiest moments thus far of the Democratic presidential campaign Sunday night when former California Gov. Jerry Brown accused Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, of unethical behavior and funneling state business to her Little Rock law firm":
With former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas standing by during a one-hour TV debate in Chicago, Brown launched a harsh, personal attack on the Democratic front-runner, citing a Washington Post story published Sunday that raised questions about the relationship between the state of Arkansas and the law firm of which Hillary Clinton is a partner.
As the Spokesman Review later noted two years later, "one Clinton opponent who wasn't silenced about Whitewater and related issues in 1992" was Brown, but "a key reason the elite media dropped the story in 1992 was that the only newsmaker pushing it was Jerry Brown -- an anti-establishment candidate." The paper noted "he was silenced in much of the press," especially after he called for the release of "all papers pertaining to his ties to the failed Madison Guaranty" and accused Clinton of "funneling money to his wife's law firm for state business."
That was before new media and Matt Drudge. It only takes one candidate to hammer Clinton on Benghazi for it to gain traction in this age.
Webb can also cause Clinton a world of problems with blue-collar voters. During the 2008 campaign, blue-collar workers in places like West Virginia supported Clinton because she wasn't Obama, much like "somewhat conservative" voters backed Romney by default in 2012 because there was no viable alternative. And Democrats who watch Fox News in red states were probably more likely to support Clinton in 2008 after near-sighted Republican tacticians started praising her and playing up her laurels against Obama.
In 2006, two years before a nimble Team Obama ran circles around Hillary Clinton, Webb won a race he had no business winning largely because of George Allen's "Macaca" moment, which ushered in the YouTube era of politics for which Clinton--and her husband--were not prepared.
In the Senate, though, Webb was a team player who was often no different from a California Democrat on the most important votes. He could get a do-over if he decides to run a "born fighting" 2016 campaign, and his past writings suggest he would also give Clinton fits in three of her most vulnerable areas: racial politics, war, and inequality.
In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege," Webb called out the salad-bowl, racial preferences wing of the Democratic Party, writing that a "plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers" and declared that "present-day diversity programs work against that notion" of equal opportunity because they have "expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white."
He said that it was an "odd historical twist" that "many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations."
"These programs have damaged racial harmony. And the more they have grown, the less they have actually helped African-Americans, the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action as it was originally conceived," he wrote. "Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans. This policy was justifiable and understandable, even to those who came from white cultural groups that had also suffered in socio-economic terms from the Civil War and its aftermath."
Webb concluded that the "injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed." But he also emphasized that the "extrapolation of this logic to all 'people of color'—especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.—moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites."
He also pointed out that salad-bowl policies have "also lessened the focus on assisting African-Americans, who despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup."
"Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible, both in our markets and in our communities," he continued. "Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes."
Before Howard Dean, there was Jim Webb.
In 2002, Webb wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he warned that while "our country remains obsessed with Saddam Hussein, other nations have begun positioning themselves for an American war with Iraq and, most important, for its aftermath." He specifically mentioned China, Russia, and Iran.
He also noted that "American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center" and, "despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns" about a war with Iraq.
"Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? And would such a war and its aftermath actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism?" Webb asked. "America's best military leaders know that they are accountable to history not only for how they fight wars, but also for how they prevent them. The greatest military victory of our time -- bringing an expansionist Soviet Union in from the cold while averting a nuclear holocaust -- was accomplished not by an invasion but through decades of intense maneuvering and continuous operations."
Webb said there was "little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate":
The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years."Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets."China will view as a glorious windfall," he continued. "Unilateral wars designed to bring about regime change and a long-term occupation should be undertaken only when a nation's existence is clearly at stake."
And before there was Elizabeth Warren, there was Jim Webb on income inequality.
In his 2007 response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union address, Webb spoke about his military family and blasted Bush for mismanaging the Iraq War. But, in arguably the most successful State of the Union response from either side of the aisle in the last 14 years, Webb also mentioned thatprofits were not being fairly shared and the stock market was only benefiting the rich.
"When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared," Webb said in 2007. "When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day."
Webb continued to speak about how "wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world." He spoke about a manufacturing base that "is being dismantled and sent overseas" and taking good American jobs with them.
"In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience," he said, even predicting that white-collar workers would experience more job insecurity (What would Webb's stance be on more guest-worker visas for foreigners?). "Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace."
Webb, in the State of the Union response, noted that Andrew Jackson "established an important principle of American-style democracy--that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today."
Webb went to NPR in May to enter himself in the presidential conversation in an interview with guest-host Susan Page of USA Today. He has traveled to Iowa, will go to New Hampshire, and is set to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. And he could decide that he may want to represent the "Jacksonian wing of the Democratic Party" on the national stage in 2016, when new media outlets will allow him to disseminate and discuss his message more easily than at any time in history while a conflict-obsessed mainstream press will be more than willing to cover him when he hurls barbs.
This is one fight Hillary Clinton does not want. If Republicans nominate a non-elitist candidate, a Webb candidacy has the potential to could cost Clinton, if she gets the nomination, the general election.