Not yet officially a candidate for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton is already trying to seize the mantle of problem-solver in a nation fed up with dysfunctional government. Republicans are ready to remind Clinton — and voters — of her past warnings of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
In her first speech in the U.S. this year, Clinton this week offered plenty of hints about her likely campaign messages. Among the themes: raising wages for workers who have yet to benefit from the nation’s economic recovery, and rebuilding trust and cooperation in government.
The economic message isn’t a surprise. Democrats have spoken often about wages in recent months, and it has been a frequent topic for several prospective Republican presidential candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul among them.
But Clinton also signaled Tuesday a desire to focus on bridging the partisan divide. Or, as Clinton put it, bringing people from “right and left, red, blue, get them into a nice, warm, purple space.”
It’s not a new message — President Barack Obama based his 2008 campaign in part on overcoming the old Washington ways of doing business — but it stands out given Clinton’s history as a polarizing figure in U.S. politics.
“My first response is, ‘Who are you and what have you done with Hillary Clinton?'” quipped Republican strategist Rich Galen, who advised former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Georgia Republican was a frequent antagonist of President Bill Clinton.
For Hillary Clinton, making the case she could succeed at brokering a lasting peace in Washington will require resolving memories of her divisive — and unsuccessful — battle to reform the nation’s health care system as first lady, and her complaint in 1998 of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get her husband from the beginning of his presidential bid.
Yet there is undoubtedly an appetite among voters, reflected in polling, for a greater focus on cooperation. Clinton sought Tuesday to reach that audience, punctuating her remarks at a conference in Silicon Valley with anecdotes of bipartisan cooperation.
When technology publisher Kara Swisher asked Clinton in an interview on stage her one wish if she could wave a magic wand, Clinton said, “If we could get back to working together cooperatively again, that we could get out of our mindsets, our partisan bunkers.”
Asked if she was now “less polarizing,” Clinton said she had learned from her experiences in Arkansas, at the White House and while serving in the Senate. “I don’t think I have all the right ideas. I don’t think my party has all the right ideas,” she said.
She lauded, for example, Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, for working with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in late 2013 to reach a budget deal that staved off a government shutdown.
Democrats say the bipartisan push is at the core of Clinton’s beliefs, recalling her across-the-aisle work with Senate Republicans like John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Her tenure at the State Department only reaffirmed those beliefs, they say, as she was frequently asked by puzzled diplomats in foreign capitals to explain Washington dysfunction.
“What I heard her say is, ‘I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to take on the problems,'” said Karen Skelton, a California-based Democratic strategist who was at the speech. Skelton, a political adviser in Bill Clinton’s White House, said that at this stage of Hillary Clinton’s career, “she’s not afraid of anything.”
Clinton’s approach speaks to the state of the nascent Democratic primary campaign. Polls show her as a dominant front-runner and the field of potential challenges has shown little signs of electrifying Democrats the way Obama did in 2008. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is the subject of a presidential draft movement by liberals, has brushed off overtures to challenge Clinton.
Pressed on a potential campaign, Clinton told Swisher she was someone who keeps lists of tasks and acknowledged, “I have a very long list. I’m going down it … I haven’t checked off the last couple of things here.”
“This is where I’m supposed to say ‘stay tuned,'” she said.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.