How to Win This Year’s Thanksgiving Day Political Arguments

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 27 2013 3:10 PM

Turkey.gov

Slate’s annual guide to your Thanksgiving dinner-table arguments.

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Democrat: Sure, the party is in a tough patch now, but just because Democrats aren't doing well today doesn't mean that Republicans are rising. The latest CBS poll says only 21 percent of the public approves of House or Senate Republicans. That's barely up from the 18-point historic low during the shutdown. Other polls show the same thing. So, while we're not doing well, the Republican Party is hardly benefiting. And Democrats don't have a Tea Party problem. The problems the president’s health care plan is having right now only delays the day of reckoning because your party isn’t doing anything to solve its underlying problems: coming up with a message that appeals to younger voters, suburban women, and minorities. The crushing realities of being a party of Southern white males still hang over you. Republicans will return soon enough to where they have been most of 2013—at each other's throats. You don't think there is a Civil War brewing in the Republican Party? The Republican Governors Committee is actively using Washington Republicans as a foil to explain to voters how not to govern. 

Chris Christie Will Be the GOP Nominee:

Yes he can! Chris Christie proved in New Jersey that he can win anywhere. In a state with 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, he received a third of the Democratic votes, won a majority of Hispanic voters, and won women voters against a female candidate. Those numbers sound magical to a lot of Republicans who don't want to lose another presidential race, but who are also looking for a national figure to rebrand the party that has been defined by the Tea Party. These establishment Republicans often have access to cash and friends with cash. Christie can tap that money. Christie is a governor, which means he knows how to make decisions, execute, and he's not tainted by Capitol Hill Republicans That doesn't mean Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio won't run. It helps Christie if they do. They'll split the opposition vote the way Romney's opponents did and it will help Christie. Christie is also a force, which will make him more attractive as a general election candidate who can stand up to a political star like Hillary Clinton, and it means that Gov. Scott Walker, who may be this election's Tim Pawlenty, will not be able to seriously challenge him in the primaries. Christie cut taxes, took on the unions, is pro-life, and does not support same-sex marriage, making him as conservative as he needs to be to not offend his party. Christie is no Rudy Giuliani; he’s a winner.

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He'll collapseGov. Christie will collapse like Rick Perry, Fred Thompson, and yes, Rudy Giuliani, because he is too brittle for the primary process. Hurricane Sandy gave him political power he won't be able to draw on as a national candidate. It will irritate him when he is criticized from all sides for taking federal money to clean up Sandy’s mess. Staying on the right side of the ideological fault lines will nibble away at him like water torture until he says something impolitic that will worry conservatives. Then it will be like a sweater-thread. The whole campaign will fall apart, opening the way for Walker or someone else. Christie's famous explosions—the shouting at some numbskull that enthralls New Jersey voters—will not play well in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. There's an easy line to cross between the authenticity that voters like and coming off as an authentic jerk. Conservatives don't like being handed an anointed candidate, especially one prone to lectures. That’s why in the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 68 percent said they either didn’t like Christie or didn’t know enough to like him. Christie's Wall Street fans are a strike against him in the grassroots. He also supports gun control and he took Medicaid money as a part of President Obama's health care plan, a huge no-no in conservative circles. And wait until his opponents dust off those photos of him arm-in-arm with Obama during the final days of the last presidential campaign. 

Hillary Clinton Will Be the Democratic Nominee:

Yes: There is no competition. Sixty-six percent of Democratic or Democratic-leaning respondents say they’d support Hillary Clinton in a presidential primary, according to the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. She has an enormous donor network, and a worldly, foreign-policy gloss and tough executive experience after running the State Department, something she lacked last time. The ghost of Benghazi isn't going to weigh her down in the Democratic primary since those voters think the whole thing is just another right-wing obsession. She may be from the Robert Rubin wing of the party, which irritates some liberals, but that wing is the same one that brought the Democratic Party back to power in the ’90s. Plus, for the majority of Democrats, it's not a disqualifying trait to care about business and the markets. Some people are saying, “Sure, but she looked inevitable before and look what happened.” That’s silly. Elizabeth Warren, who is a darling to the liberal wing of the party, will not be 2016’s Barack Obama. If she does run, she would be that campaign's Howard Dean. She would turn out loud and enthusiastic crowds, but there would be a ceiling to her vote.

No: The inevitability cloak is so heavy. By the time she actually runs, people will be tired of Hillary Clinton. Elections are about the future and she seems like a figure from the past. That will be amplified by the return of all the drama that collects around the Clinton name, which will make voters feel like they need a break. You can try to write off the party's liberal base—the way people wrote off New York Mayor Bill de Blasio—but the country’s economic disparities and the distaste for banks and corporations is creating a radical desire for change. Last year the top 1 percent of the country made 19 percent of the income, and the top 10 percent made 50 percent.

Clinton may try to argue that she is that change, but she is too cautious and distant to actually convey it. Her attempts to do so will unveil her weaknesses as a candidate and give a challenger an opportunity to emerge as a leader of a movement. Voters will support a movement more than they will the inevitable caretaker candidate of a system they know is broken. This matters for the general election, too. The Democratic nominee will not be able to easily duplicate Obama's success with first time and occasional voters. It will be easier to motivate these reluctant voters, to maintain the Democratic electoral advantage in the general election, if the candidate is one who can speak to the economic angst being felt by the public. That's a language it's hard for Clinton to speak.

Anyone for leftovers?

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