In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher employed the slogan, “There is No Alternative,” to explain why free market reforms were desperately needed for Great Britain’s economy to avoid collapse. Today, Ross Douthat is using those same words in regards to another would-be Iron Lady, Hillary Clinton — whose candidacy is desperately needed by Democrats hoping to avoid the collapse of their political coalition.
As the headline of Douthat’s recent New York Times column suggests, he seems to believe there is no safe alternative for Democrats in 2016, except to nominate Hillary.
“Clinton’s iconic status is, increasingly, the only clear advantage the Democratic Party has,” he writes. “If her position is weakened, diminished or challenged, the entire coalition risks collapse.”
We tend to take coalitions that were carefully cobbled together and infrastructure advantages for granted, but they are often quite contingent on having a charismatic rock star at the top of the ticket, which is to say they are not automatically transferable. In this regard, Douthat’s observation is profound.
On the other hand, Douthat is really not discovering a new paradigm inasmuch as he’s simply reminding us of the way things have always been. As others have pointed out, Douthat’s comments about the Democratic coalition of today could just as easily have been said about the FDR coalition — and the Reagan coalition.
And so, we’re basically left with this: No, the Democratic Party isn’t a “permanent governing majority” since such a thing does not really exist in America. And yes, if Hillary decides not to run, it creates a serious challenge for Democrats to overcome.
But is it catastrophic? Douthat’s assumption seems to imply that no other conceivable Democrat — not Elizabeth Warren or Jim Webb or anyone else — could keep the tenuous coalition together. He’s right that Clinton has the best shot at doing this, but Republicans should be careful not to engage in such wishful thinking.
And, of course, there is always the very real possibility that this sort of analysis is moot — that Clinton will, in fact, run. If that happens, as Douthat concedes, “she has the potential to embody a political coalition — its identities and self-conceptions, its nostalgias and aspirations — in ways that might just keep the whole thing hanging together.”
This very real prospect of four more years ought to evoke great concern amongst Republicans.