Can Hillary Convince Supporters to Back Obama?
Hillary Clinton’s speech is the big draw tonight at the Democratic Convention. She’s going to have to convince a lot of people — perhaps starting with herself — to put aside their grudges and voter for Barack Obama to be the next president.
Matt Yglesias echoes my longstanding view that this will happen organically and notes a recent parallel:
As you may recall, several months ago it looked as if one of America’s two major political parties was going to have a serious “party unity” problem. Their nominating contest produced a winner who’d prevailed against divided opposition without ever proving himself to be a clear majority choice anywhere. What’s more, the party’s base was divided between a substantial element that strongly approved of the party’s unpopular incumbent president, and another substantial element that joined the majority of the public in disapproving of his job performance. What’s more, the winner had a long history of personal and professional tensions with key stakeholders in his party’s political movement and with leading party politicians.
He’s referring, of course, to John McCain. While a not insignificant number of Republicans still remain less than enthusiastic about him as their standard bearer, almost all have come around to its inevitability. Few people who voted in the Republican primaries, perhaps excepting the Ron Paul crowd, will seriously consider Obama.
Matt argues that the transformation happened “by shifting attention off the internally controversial of their nominee and his relationship to other party figures and on to the internally uncontroversial subject of how awful the other political party is.” I would argue that this happened without much help from Team McCain but is the natural state of affairs for partisans.
Slate‘s John Dickerson, likewise, has thought the talk about a lasting riff between Obama and Clinton supporters was nonsense. But, he confesses, “I’m getting wobbly. ”
In the two and a half months since Barack Obama won the nomination, he’s been trying to convince Hillary’s supporters—but his standing with them has gotten only worse. Roughly 30 percent of Clinton voters say they won’t vote for him, and this is not a one-poll anomaly. The number is the same in the Pew, ABC, and CNN polls. That’s as bad as it was during the heat of the Democratic primary.
Whatever role these PUMAs (“Party Unity My Ass”) ultimately play, we are learning that Barack Obama’s ability to persuade is limited. This has obvious implications for the coalition he needs to build to win, but it also raises questions about the way he intends to govern. He’s promised he can rally the nation to change, but it may be that he can rally only a certain constituency (and boy can he rally them) rather than being able to sway opinions and emotions across several constituencies.
I must confess, that I thought the healing would have taken place by now. At times, it does seem like Team Obama has gone out of its way to poke Hillary supporters in the eye, as with the hiring of Patty Solis Doyle or by not even pretending that Hillary Clinton had any shot whatsoever to get the VP nod.
But, seriously, it’s simply bizarre to contemplate that all that many Clinton supporters are going to vote for McCain in a huff. The amount of public policy light between the two Democratic contenders was miniscule, whereas McCain is a rock solid Republican on all but a handful of issues. One can’t imagine, for example, partisans of Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee flocking to Obama in a huff.