Lance Dutson: Hillary Clinton declared war on working America when she told a crowd in Ohio that her administration would be “putting a lot of coal miners” out of work.
Despite her painful efforts to walk that back, she’s opened a wide lane for Donald Trump to take his populist message to traditional Democratic voters, and polling shows it’s working.
Steven Biel: It was a pretty dumb thing to say just before the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries, and those voters made her pay for it.
But the point she was making is absolutely right. Coal mining is dying — killed by automation, fracking, renewables and the free market. We need a new economic model in coal country because the old one’s never coming back.
And now I’ll say something politically incorrect: We should be glad coal is dying. It’s the dirtiest form of energy on the planet. Ten thousand people die every year from coal pollution. Coal mining is the most dangerous job in America. It’s the biggest source of global warming pollution. Good riddance.
Lance: That kind of talk is hurting Democrats badly in key states, and Clinton’s “put coal miners out of business” gaffe may well be the mistake that costs her the presidency.
Abstract concepts of environmental impact tend to mean nothing when you can’t put food on your own table, and Trump is a master at exacerbating that kind of fear.
Workers in coal country have watched as tens of thousands of jobs have been lost during the Obama administration, and Clinton promised to keep it going. Unfortunately for her, the one thing voters really do trust her on is her promise to run the coal industry into the ground.
Steven: Pardon me while I introduce some facts to this conversation. Coal is not a big employer in America and hasn’t been for half a century.
The entire coal mining industry has less than 75,000 workers, and it’s shrinking fast. General Electric alone has four times as many.
More to the point, there are almost three times more workers in the solar industry than coal mining, and solar employment has doubled in five years. Of course, thanks to Gov. Paul LePage, we haven’t seen much of that in Maine, but if you want more jobs in the energy sector, you should be pushing as hard as possible to transition away from coal to wind and solar, which are far more job-intensive.
Lance: Everyone knows coal is heading the way of the dodo bird. But this kind of creative destruction in the free market always creates anecdotal victims, and frankly this is the playbook Democrats have been using for ages against Republican economic policy.
Every time a common-sense reform policy is on the table, Democrats pull bleeding-heart anecdotes out to justify throwing tax revenue into the abyss.
But this time Clinton is the one holding the bag. I have to say it’s refreshing to see the Democratic presidential front-runner hoisted on her own proverbial petard like this.
Steven: Clinton is proposing a real plan for economic development in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, while Republicans offer only scapegoats and lies.
Global warming doesn’t exist. Renewable energy doesn’t work. Blame the Mexicans. You’re experts at winning elections with demagoguery, and meanwhile, rural communities from Logan County, West Virginia, to Millinocket continue their slow death.
Lance: This has nothing to do with global warming or renewable energy. We both know a Clinton administration or a Trump administration will be bought and sold by the same lobbyists, regardless of who wins. This is about politics, and the continued emergence of Clinton as the worst presidential candidate ever.
Blue-collar America remembers Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement. They remember the collapse of the coal industry under Barack Obama. And they’ll remember Hillary Clinton’s words this November. This is Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe all over again.
Steven: It was a gaffe, no doubt. And I agree it could hurt her in Pennsylvania and Ohio in November. I’m sure Trump’s Super PACs will run ads playing the clip over and over.
Still, Clinton’s the only candidate with a real plan for economic development in coal country, and we should have a real debate about that instead of fixating on gaffes and scapegoats.
Steven Biel is former campaign director for MoveOn.org and president of the Portland-based political consulting firm Steven Biel Strategies. Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.