It's settled: The general election is going to be Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Incredibly, Trump — with his zero political experience and against the active resistance of party elites, including the party's 2012 nominee — has sewn up his nomination first. On Tuesday Ted Cruz dropped out after losing the Indiana primary; John Kasich dropped out on Wednesday. It's over.
But Clinton, with more advantages than any non-incumbent frontrunner in generations, still can't manage to convincingly put away Bernie Sanders. He unexpectedly won the Indiana primary on Tuesday and may yet win several more before the convention. However, Sanders is far enough behind in the delegate count that it's virtually impossible for him to catch up. He's going to keep campaigning all the way to the election so as to keep pushing his agenda (and fundraising for some other Democrats), but the writing is on the wall.
So Clinton is pivoting to the general election — and is already looking to win some votes on the right, contacting likely Republicans and compiling ads of others bashing Trump. Several prominent conservatives have announced they'll be supporting her in November, and a lot more have signed on to the so-called #NeverTrump movement. It's a tempting move, to be sure. It's also a big mistake.
First, it's unnecessary to win. The most well-tested electoral strategy for a Democrat would be to simply reassemble the Obama coalition of young people, white college-educated liberals, and minorities that delivered the presidency in 2008 and 2012. Indeed, as Jamelle Bouie points out, that coalition has only grown over the last four years — and given Trump's staggering unpopularity among all those groups, it should be fairly easy to reassemble. Latinos in particular are chomping at the bit to vote against Trump; his deranged anti-immigrant xenophobia is sparking mass registration drives all over the country.
Second, Clinton should be more worried about her left flank. She has generally won minority populations, especially African-Americans, but Sanders has dominated among young people, and she needs those voters. This primary has had big ideological and policy differences, and while Democrats generally like Clinton, she clearly isn't the first choice of a big fraction of the party. Any sop to conservatives would risk bleeding left-wing voters who are already suspicious of her fairly conservative domestic record and hawkish foreign policy.
It would also, you know, be morally wrong to advance bad conservative ideas if it can possibly be avoided. Neocon elites are probably the likeliest faction to defect to Clinton, and what they'd want is blood-curdling aggressiveness overseas and Benjamin Netanyahu in charge of Middle East policy. That would be bad.
Finally, Clinton probably won't be able to get meaningful numbers of Republican defectors. She is absolutely loathed among the Republican base and has been for years and years. Reuters says 84 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Clinton, CNN has them at 85 percent. While she might get a few prominent neocons like Max Boot or Robert Kagan, they won't bring anyone over with them. And those few aside, the vast majority of the party will accommodate themselves to Trump eventually. It's happening already.
Besides, even if lots more conservatives came out for Clinton, the entire story of the GOP primary has been Republican elites completely losing control over the party. If they couldn't get conservatives to vote for Jeb Bush, there's little chance they'll get them to vote for someone they dislike much more than him.
Still, I doubt Clinton will be swayed by any of these arguments. Her substantive views on foreign policy at least are already pretty close to neocon ones — witness her god-awful speech before AIPAC — and the Clintons have a long history of rightward triangulation. She won this primary while defending military intervention, bashing social insurance, and invoking right-wing caricatures of Sanders as a tax-and-spend liberal. Maybe she'll even dust off her husband's old plan to privatize Social Security!
But all else aside, Clinton has still drawn the most unpopular general election opponent since the advent of modern polling, and so will be the heavy favorite almost regardless of what she says. We can only hope she doesn't abuse that power.