Steve King (R-IA) said it this week to an audience at the Iowa State Fair. “I’ve sat across the table with Hillary Clinton eye-to-eye, and when you’re working outside of staff and outside of the press she is somebody I can work with.”
Much is made of public opinion polls that suggest that a fair percentage of the Republican electorate believe that Hillary Clinton is a follower of Lucifer. But here is Steve King, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus and darling of the Tea Party, suggesting that Hillary Clinton is someone he can work with.
during the Republican Convention in July. "The story line seems to be at the grassroots level, the Republicans just hate Hillary Clinton, they all want her in jail, blah blah blah. Ain’t so. Not true in the Congress. The people who served with Hillary Clinton in Congress as Republicans got along with her, respected her, and worked with her. Didn’t agree with her, don’t want her to be President, but the notion that she will come in hated by everyone in Congress simply is not an accurate statement."
An increasing number of Republicans are prepared to not vote for their party's nominee--Trump has been losing ground in particular among educated white women, and to a lesser extent among educated white men--but it is less clear that those voters, having decided not to vote for Trump, are willing to take the next step to support Clinton.
A large share of Republicans, on and off Capitol Hill, share Steve King's view of the President. They find him to be patronizing and aloof. And, to be fair, the disdain is mutual. If there is a part of his job that President Obama has shown that he dislikes, it has been meeting and dealing with Republicans in Congress as his Constitutional equals. He and John Boehner may have a good time playing golf now that the former Speaker of the House is retired, but back when Boehner was Speaker, he made little effort to hide how much he disliked dealing with the President. Whomever was to blame, Obama's early promise of bipartisanship rapidly deteriorate into mutual antipathy.
One of Hillary's campaign strategies has been to tie herself closely the President Obama, which was particularly important as she faced the challenge from Bernie Sanders. As the campaign moves into the fall, she should use her history of and commitment to working across the aisle as an opportunity to put some light between herself and the White House, as she reaches out to voters who are less positively inclined toward the President.
It is a difficult step for people to turn their backs on a political party that they believe in and that is part of their identity. Republicans--as well as Republican-leaning independents--who are disgusted with Donald Trump nonetheless share in large measure negative views of Hillary. That, as they say, is baked in the cake. Hillary needs to demonstrate to those Republicans who are prepared to abandon the candidate of their party that there is reason to believe that, as president, she will be a more reasonable collaborator with Congress than President Obama has been. King's words this week present an opportunity to make the case, as House Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole (R-OK) has suggested, that Hillary "could be easier to work with than the President has been."
Hillary should embrace Steve King's comments. She should talk about when she worked with King and say a nice word or two about him. She should then expand her comments to mention issues on which she has worked with Republicans, and which Republicans that she worked with. She can use the opportunity to discretely put some distance between her and the President--who would probably be willing to acknowledge that he did not care for working with Republicans in Congress, and offer that many of them probably think more highly of her than they do of him. It is, after all, a low threshold.
Hillary's comments should not overstate the case, but should provide enough detail that reporters would want to contact the Republicans in question to verify what she said. Those Republicans, many of whom themselves detest Trump--even if politically they are not prepared to disown him--would likely acknowledge, as Steve King did, that in the real world, Hillary Clinton is someone they have worked with, that they respect and that they can imagine working with in the future.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor her surrogates can tell Republican voters that she is respected across the aisle, and by implication that relations between the White House and Congress might be better on her watch than they have been over the past four years. They must hear that from Republicans who have worked with her over the years. Hillary's objective should be to have Republican members of Congress--in whatever subtle ways it can be achieved--become testifiers on her behalf, and in doing so give Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters a rationale to acquiesce to, if not embrace, her candidacy in November. Steve King's words were a validation of Clinton from the most unlikely source. If King--a firebrand of the right and Trump supporter--has a nice word or two two say about Hillary, one can only imagine the comments that John McCain or Lindsay Graham or others might say, should they be asked.
Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.