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Hillary to Dem voters: Get over yourselves and vote for old Joe

Onetime Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton displayed all the political skill for which she is famous in a Monday night appearance on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. There, she was asked how Democrats could overcome voters’ dissatisfaction with the two likeliest presidential nominees, but Clinton summarily rejected the premise.

“What do you say to voters who are upset that those are the two choices?” Fallon asked. “Get over yourself,” Clinton responded. “Those are the two choices.” She went on to heap scorn on the muddled thinking that has led millions of Americans to reject both major party’s nominees. “I don’t understand why this is even a hard choice,” Clinton remarked. “Really. I don’t understand it.” Indeed, she didn’t seem to have any interest in or desire to clear up her own confusion. If Clinton retained an ounce of intellectual curiosity, it was not in evidence in this segment.
If this tactic seems unlikely to transform potential Democratic voters into active Democratic voters, it’s probably because that isn’t the goal. The design is to reinforce the faith in a congregation of true believers. Reducing something as banal as just one more quadrennial election cycle into what Clinton called an “existential question” renders debate on the relevant issues obtuse. After all, she said, Donald Trump and his ilk are “pretty clear about what kind of country they want.” What’s there to debate? Indeed, to even countenance the notion that persuasion might be valuable is to concede the legitimacy of the other side’s arguments. It’s beneath the dignity of one so august as Hillary Clinton to entertain the solicitations of Americans who haven’t yet made up their minds.

This performance may be unsurprising from a candidate who deemed her opponents “deplorables” and was subsequently confused by her torpid standing in the polls, but Clinton’s distaste for the art of persuasion isn’t unique. Joe Biden, too, is loath to behave in ways that would confirm to Democratic voters that he’s interested in expanding his voting base to include the people Democrats dislike.

The Biden campaign recently produced a 30-second spot allegedly targeting disaffected Republicans who backed Nikki Haley in the primaries, which is composed exclusively of comments from Donald Trump disparaging her and her supporters. The president’s campaign has put a little money behind it, too. One-thirtieth of the $30 million ad buy has been devoted to the spot, which will run for three weeks in select battleground states. But the audience for this advertisement isn’t voters; it’s the political press, which has given the ad a far broader airing than the one the Biden campaign purchased. The objective is to create the impression in voters’ minds that the president and his campaign are making substantive overtures to a broader universe of voters beyond the Democratic base without actually making any substantive commitments to those voters.

What other overtures have the Biden campaign made to disaffected Republicans and GOP-leaning independents? Well, there was that one statement: “Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters,” read a presidential statement upon Haley’s exit from the Republican nominating contest. “I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign.” That’s about it. No policy concessions. No meaningful efforts to fold non-progressives into either the campaign apparatus or the administration. No “Sister Souljah” moments to exile from respectable Democratic politics those who promulgate the fashionable bigotries that enchant the activist left. Only this, a slightly more elevated version of “get over yourself.”

Joe Biden might be convinced to do more to court centrist Republicans and independents in the coming weeks, but it would be foolish to bet on it. The president seems content to outsource the presidency he won by rejecting progressive policy prescriptions to the very progressives he defeated. They’ve been running the show ever since. The slightest deviation from ever-shifting leftwing orthodoxy so profoundly discomforts this White House that they cannot maintain a posture of independence for long. Those Democratic voters, donors, and advocates resent the notion that their preferences even need to be argued. To submit to being just a part of an ideologically heterogeneous coalition is an affront — one they need not tolerate if the arc of history inexorably bends in their direction anyway.

The muscles Democrats once exercised in the effort to persuade voters to their cause have atrophied to the point of uselessness. All that remains is the impulse to hector and morally blackmail the holdouts. Democrats may successfully convince themselves that they don’t need to stoop so low as to address voters’ concerns about their records, but “get over yourself” works both ways. If the party in power leans into the idea that persuasion is beneath them, leaving it to the electorate to assess its own best interests and vote accordingly, Democrats may not like the verdict the voting public reaches.

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