Why Hillary Clinton needs to start thinking big
If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president, then she will likely have the incredible good fortune of running against the single most unpopular opponent in modern history, in the orange form of Donald Trump. While it is by no means assured, it's looking at least conceivable that Clinton could win by a big enough margin that Democrats would take both the Senate and the House.
So far, Clinton has put forward policies that read very much like checking a campaign box — having something to put forward as marginal improvements, but not what one would design anticipating a workable Democratic majority. She — and the rest of the Democratic Party — ought to be putting together a really ambitious wish list, on the off chance that she walks to massive victory.
Now, as I've argued before, Democrats should still take Trump very seriously. Clinton herself is quite unpopular, and Trump's combination of casual racism, anti-immigrant paranoia, and left-leaning views on social insurance and trade could be a powerful combination. (It's also worth noting that Bernie Sanders has consistently polled better than her against every Republican.) Democrats ought to campaign as hard as they can.
However, Trump's move towards the center has been seriously disrupted by the constant violence at his rallies. As Josh Marshall says, the processes that are winning Trump the primary aren't going to stop. Establishment Republicans — whose party coalition and ideological consensus is cracking to pieces — are speculating about third-party runs, or trying to wrest the nomination from Trump at the convention, either one of which would virtually guarantee a GOP loss.
Even aside from those scenarios, Clinton is polling at nearly 11 points above Trump, which is probably enough to overcome House Republicans' 7-point handicap due to gerrymandering. That could close, but it could widen as well, as left-leaning operatives start attacking Trump with the mountain-sized piles of opposition research they're undoubtedly sitting on for the general election.
Therefore, Clinton ought to start putting together some real reach goals. Obviously my own preferences are far to the left of where hers are, but I can still think of two great objectives she might actually support: paid leave and infrastructure. If she has the majority, there's no reason not to shoot even above Kirsten Gillibrand's FAMILY Act and put through something like Washington, D.C.'s paid leave proposal, which has a universal 16 weeks of leave (as opposed to 12 weeks from Gillibrand), and is progressive in both pay and funding structure.
Such a program is certain to be enormously popular. Practically everyone knows families today struggling to raise new babies without it — and unlike ObamaCare, it would be simple and very easy to access. I'd say patching a motherhood-specific hole in the safety net left by every previous male president with a program that will quickly become as beloved as Social Security — call it ClintonCare? — would be a pretty great feather in the first woman president's cap.
Infrastructure, on the other hand, is the kind of federal spending that even Republicans used to support. America needs it very badly, from repairs to new capacity, particularly in rail. (I'd couple this with a program of cost control.)
Congressional Democrats ought to be doing the same thing — in fact, they have already started, in the form of the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget. As my colleague Jeff Spross has reported, this is somewhere in between Sanders' super-ambitious ideas and Clinton's current posture. It includes such goodies as beefed-up poor relief, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, new paid and sick leave, aggressive climate policy, a financial transaction tax, a public option for ObamaCare, and on and on.
If Clinton is the committed liberal her fans keep assuring me she is, then she'd get behind many if not most of these ideas in some form. I frankly suspect she won't, and so the CPC should be prepared to push hard for the ideas in their budget. If Clinton takes office with a Democratic majority, she should be immediately swamped with as many good bills as possible.
Cringing Democratic centrists are sure to complain that such a move would be going too far, and risking Democrats' electoral fortunes. But absent a Trump on the ballot, Republicans are likely to take back some gains in 2018 in any case. Above all, the point of a majority is to do something with it. If Clinton wants to be remembered as a good president, she should be prepared to help the American people as much as possible.