A call I’m happy to leave to others

Hillary Clinton appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show last night. You can view it here. Apparently some Republican viewers found Clinton borderline likeable. Presumably, these feelings will vanish if she manages to win the nomination.

I’m a firm believer that the Democrats should pick their own nominee, and not just because they generally can be trusted to pick someone the electorate will find problematic. Nonetheless it’s fun to speculate about which candidate would (a) be stronger in November and (b) make a better president.

Obama and Clinton seem comparably strong (or weak) as candidates in the general election. Both have substantial strengths and considerable weaknesses. Clinton’s weaknesses are well-known; nearly half the electorate dislikes her and an even larger portion finds her untrustworthy. Obama’s weaknesses have emerged in the last few months. He has gradually been exposed as a leftist with far left associations. Moreover, voters seem to have serious questions about whether Obama is ready to make difficult decisions. That’s why he’s been so vulnerable to those ads about 3:00 a.m. phone calls. His handling of his relationship with Rev. Wright probably will continue to fuel doubts on both counts – his ideological tendencies and his judgment.

Both candidates also face the problem of holding together the Democratic coalition, now that they have alienated each other’s core supporters. Polls suggest that more Clinton voters would say no to Obama in November than the other way around. But more Obama voters might simply stay home. My guess is that, for either candidate, this concern will not live up to current Repubican expecations.

On balance, I suspect that from a purely political standpoint Republicans will be better off if Obama is the nominee. Given her negatives, Clinton probably cannot blow McCain out. Yet it’s also hard to imagine McCain blowing Clinton out this year given her tenacity, her solid support among most core components of her party, and the state of the Republican brand.

Until recently, I could see Obama winning big over McCain, but that prospect now seems remote unless it’s such a bad year for Republicans that virtually any Democrat would win in a rout. On the other hand, I think there’s more than de minimis chance that, by November, Obama will have tanked, assuming (as I do) that he’s not tanking now. I just don’t see this possibility with Clinton.

As to which candidate would make a better president, the analysis is not that dissimilar. It’s hard to see Clinton being a good president, at least from my perspective. However, there probably are limits as to how bad she would be. Hillary seems to understand that the world is a dangerous place; that our enemies make it so; and that therefore, at a minimum, we should not be in a rush to accommodate them.

Obama may or may not grasp these basic realities. If he does not, then he will be another Jimmy Carter.

Yet, in contrast to Clinton, one can imagine Obama turning out to be a good president. That’s because there’s some evidence that he’s intellectually open to deviations from orthodox liberalism in ways that Clinton isn’t. In addition, there may be something to his (admittedly self-serving) claim that he’s temperamentally better suited than Clinton to working with his political adversaries. It’s difficult to see how he could be more poorly suited.

In sum, Obama seems to have both a larger upside and a larger downside than Clinton. Being risk averse when it comes to politicians, I’d probably rather see Clinton in the oval office. But fortunately, I don’t have to cast that vote.

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