Hillary Clinton’s Duty to Quit
One meme that has emerged in recent days is the idea that Hillary Clinton’s remaining in the race, and especially her negative attacks on Barack Obama, will seriously damage the Democratic Party and make Obama damaged goods in the fall. John Aravosis is one of the more passionate advocates of this position.
Well, come Wednesday, if Hillary doesn’t win 65% of the delegates in Ohio and Texas, and still insists on staying in the race and ripping our party in two, it will be time to start treating candidate Clinton with the same golden rule she is using for candidate Obama. Why? Not for revenge, but for the sake of our party and the fall election. Hillary and her campaign are in the process of turning Obama into damaged goods in the fall. They didn’t have to go there, but beating Obama became more important to them than beating John McCain. So, the first question for Hillary come Wednesday, should she decide to continue risking our chances of winning in the fall even though the math says it’s over, will be the question she’s asking Obama today: What negatives will the Republicans throw against you in the fall? And as I’ve noted repeatedly, there are some negatives out there that most of you don’t even know about – but everyone in Washington knows about them, in detail. That’s because even Democrats who don’t love Hillary, don’t go there, for the good of the party. On Wednesday, the good of the party may dictate that we do.
To be sure, this was written before Clinton’s victories in Ohio and Texas. Since she didn’t come even close to the 65 percent margin, though, the logic remains intact.
Hilzoy is less vociferous but nonetheless allows that “if, when the results come in, it is still overwhelmingly unlikely that Clinton wins, I hope they put the interests of the party and the nation above their own.”
Marc Cooper, writing at HuffPo, argues that the best Clinton can do at this point is steal the election.
For two or three days, the Clinton campaign will spin itself -and the media–silly, breathlessly celebrating her overwhelming victories in Rhode Island and Ohio and her squeaker in Texas.
After the confetti is swept and the champagne bottles are tossed a more sober reality will take hold. Not just that her net gain of delegates this week will be, at most, in the single digits. But worse. There is no plausible scenario in which Clinton can win the nomination. At least not democratically.
He’s outraged at the negativity of Clinton’s campaign and especially the infamous 3 a.m. ad, “a detestable spot that, stripped to its core message, warned that if Obama were selected, your children could be murdered in their beds in the middle of the night.” But, as Josh Marshall reminds us, that’s politics.
The Clinton campaign got rough and nasty over the last week-plus. And they got results. That may disgust you or it may inspire you with confidence in Hillary’s abilities as a fighter. But wherever you come down on that question is secondary to the fact that that’s how campaign’s work. Opponents get nasty. And what we’ve seen over the last week is nothing compared to what Barack Obama would face this fall if he hangs on and wins the nomination.
So I think the big question is, can he fight back? Can he take this back to Hillary Clinton, demonstrate his ability to take punches and punch back? By this I don’t mean that he’s got to go ballistic on her or go after Bill’s business deals or whatever else her vulnerabilities might be. Candidates fight in different ways and if they’re good candidates in ways that play to their strengths and cohere with their broader message. But he’s got to show he can take this back to Hillary and not get bloodied and battered when an opponent decides to lower the boom. That will obviously determine in a direct sense how he fares in the coming primaries and caucuses. And Obama’s people are dead right when they say, he doesn’t even have to do that well from here on out to end this with a substantial pledged delegate margin.
At the end of the day, the winner of the pledged delegate race has the strongest claim to the nomination. Everything else is spin. But it’s a strong claim, not incontestable.
I’ve got no dog in this fight. I find Obama more likable but am probably closer to Clinton on policy. I think Obama would be harder to beat in the fall but don’t want to wager a Clinton presidency on that hunch.
Yes, Clinton has run a nasty, desperate campaign the last few weeks. Given that she was in fact desperate, that’s hardly surprising.
Further, while the delegate math is against her, it’s not as if Obama has a commanding lead. Indeed, she’d probably be winning this thing if Florida and Michigan had held their primaries when they were supposed to; she might even have it wrapped up by now.
Clinton’s not, in the way that Mike Huckabee was yesterday morning, an annoying spoiler. She’s won all the big states thus far except Illinois, which Obama represents in the Senate, and is within a hundred delegates of him. Nor is there anything “undemocratic” about pinning her hopes on the superdelegates. Or, at least, nothing unsporting. The superdelegates have been part of the Democratic nominating rules for several cycles now and it’s their job to use their judgment to pick the best nominee if no overwhelming winner emerges from the primaries. Getting the uncontested Michigan and Florida delegates to suddenly count while the nomination is in doubt would be “stealing” the nomination in my view; persuading the superdelegates to do what they’re supposed to do would not.
Nor am I entirely convinced that keeping this thing going is bad news for her party. While a prolonged battle between the Democrats, especially if it leads to a nasty convention fight, bloodies the eventual winner, it also sucks the oxygen from McCain’s message. He’s a footnote to the race until he’s got an opponent.
Yes, the nominee will get hammered and attacks that the Republicans will use against them will get trotted out early. While that may be harmful in the short run, though, it gets to big shots fired early and makes them less effective for the stretch run. The eventual winner will have emerged battle tested and probably stronger. [UPDATE: LizardBreath is hosting a discussion on this very topic.]
The chief down side, really, for the Democrats is that it creates a three pronged battle, with Obama and Clinton attacking each other and McCain attacking both of them. If Clinton dropped out and made Obama the presumptive nominee, he could spend his huge treasure chest on ads attacking McCain and not have to worry about his left flank. Conversely, though, McCain has to hedge his bets on a much smaller budget.
UPDATE: Jeff Dobbs calls for Obama to drop out (via Glenn Reynolds). Meanwhile, TPM Cafe Talk poster CSCS explains why “Both Obama’s and Clinton’s supporters must now drop out of the race” (via David Kurtz).
UPDATE: On a more serious note, historian Eric Rauchway sees some strong parallels between this race and the battle between Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft that doomed the Republicans in 1912. It’s an interesting read but I ultimately don’t buy it: We’re not talking about the party elite taking a nomination from an overwhelming popular favorite. Clinton and Obama are virtually neck-and-neck, with the latter winning more states but the former winning the bigger ones.
UPDATE: Alex Massie dubs the enterprise “Super-Delegate Quidditch” and quotes a friend who uses another sports analogy:
To suggest that the winner of the pledged delegates should get all the superdelegates is to ignore the rules of the game. That’s like saying had whoever gained the most total yards in a football game should be the winner, not the person with the most points. You may not like the rules, but to steal a line from the Big Lebowski — this is not Vietnam, there are rules!
Of course, Clinton’s favorite game is Calvinball.