February 22, 2008

How Hillary Clinton can still differentiate herself from Barack Obama on foreign policy

Obviously, these are difficult times for the Clinton campaign, and Barack Obama is the most likely Democratic nominee for president. His messaging strategy, so far successful, has in essence been:

  1. Pitch “change” as a top-level message.
  2. Claim that being a pro-change outsider is more conducive to getting things done than being an experienced insider.
  3. Adopt similar policy positions to his rivals, so as to reduce the chance for differentiation there.
  4. Show that he’s not “too much” of an outsider, by collecting insiders’ endorsements.
  5. Claim that primary electoral success demonstrates both that he’s likely to have general election success in the fall and also that he’s likely to lead effectively once elected.

So Clinton desperately needs to differentiate herself from Obama, beneficially, more than she already has. But how?

She’s already tapped out the domestic policy vein. Everybody knows Clinton has immense expertise on health care, and that’s an advantage for her. But otherwise, she and Obama express similar priorities, propose similar programs, and similarly hope that the Republicans won’t convince voters that the Democratic numbers don’t add up.

So Clinton needs to shift the discussion as far back towards foreign policy as she can, simply to create the chance for favorable differentiation versus Obama. But this strategy has further potential advantages as well. They include:

I think there are three specific areas of foreign policy that offer Clinton particularly good chances for competitive advantage.

  1. Health care, children’s rights, etc. — emphasizing her traditional advantages and commitments.

  2. Women’s rights – she can get inspirational on women’s rights, but too rarely shows it during the campaign. What’s more, it’s an issue that obviously resonates with her core (very large!) constituency.

  3. Free trade.

The third item on that list may be rather surprising. So let me explain. Clinton is unlikely to win the nomination unless she out-wonks Obama in a convincing way. And free trade is an issue where he happens to stumble. In Thursday’s debate alone, he twice showed himself to be confused on trade issues. First, he told a story about a steel plant losing out to Chinese competition, and blamed it on NAFTA. Second, even though he’s negative on NAFTA, he spoke favorably of helping the Mexican economy strengthen, create better jobs, and so forth.

Clinton’s calls for a “trade time-out” show that she doesn’t want to run as pure free-trader. Even so, if she aggressively delved into trade details, she could:

This strategy has obvious risks, but I can’t think of another one more likely to succeed.

Please subscribe to our feed!



One Response to “How Hillary Clinton can still differentiate herself from Barack Obama on foreign policy”

  1. Hispanic Advertising Consulting on February 22nd, 2008 5:34 pm

    The third item on the list IS rather surprising.

Leave a Reply

Feed including blog about strategic marketing and messaging in technology and politics Subscribe to the Monash Research feed via RSS or email:


Search our blogs and white papers

Monash Research blogs

User consulting

Building a short list? Refining your strategic plan? We can help.

Vendor advisory

We tell vendors what's happening -- and, more important, what they should do about it.

Monash Research highlights

Learn about white papers, webcasts, and blog highlights, by RSS or email.