As I said recently, trying to read Hillary Clinton’s mind — and that of her famous husband — has become the new favorite parlor game of American politics. But then, why wouldn’t it be? It’s the question of the hour, after all: why is she still campaigning (and running up debt) when, from the standpoint of delegate statistics, she stands no chance of winning the nomination?
One widely held theory suggests a dark and devious motive: according to this view, Clinton wants Obama to lose so that the path will be open for her to run in 2012.
Personally, I don’t buy it: my guess is that living in the cocoon that encompasses all major campaigns, surrounded by adoring fans, she still believes she has a fighting chance at winning the nomination. As to what other, if any, less praiseworthy thoughts may invade her consciousness late at night, I prefer not to speculate.
The fears that give rise to such suspicions of skullduggery are, however, anything but illusory. By pushing forward with her campaign, Clinton is unquestionably harming Obama’s chances in November, at least to some degree. Although, in fairness, I should note that this too is controversial: many seemingly sentient observers insist that the ongoing bloodletting is actually just what the doctor ordered for Obama, by helping him to prepare for the coming GOP onslaught.
The problem with this cheery prognosis, I’m afraid, is that it underestimates the bitterness the race is engendering. Exit poll results continue to show an extraordinarily large number of Clinton supporters who at least claim they will refuse to vote for Obama.
For awhile, the so-called ceasefire that’s been in effect since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, with Clinton reducing the severity of her attacks on Obama, has muted these concerns. Unfortunately, it appears that declarations of the dawning of an era of universal Democratic brotherhood and sisterhood may have been premature.
As Josh Marshall notes in a post aptly titled “Toxic,” Clinton is again heightening the intraparty anger by upping the emotional ante on the Florida and Michigan delegations:
For the last week it’s seemed that Sens. Clinton and Obama were adhering to their tacit truce, continuing the primary campaign but avoiding the harsh exchanges that make later party unity a dimmer and dimmer prospect. Clinton particularly had deescalated her rhetoric. Then we have a speech like Sen. Clinton’s yesterday in Florida in which she compared the controversy over seating the Florida and Michigan delegates to the Florida recount debacle and many of the great voting and civil rights battles of the 20th century. She is of course also claiming that whatever the delegate count, she leads in the popular vote and that that is what really counts. Never mind of course that even if you count Michigan and Florida she’s still not ahead in the popular vote without resorting to tendentious methods of counting.
So, refusing to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates — something Hillary and her campaign team didn’t care a wit about until it proved beneficial to her — has now been elevated to the level of the great civil rights struggles of the last century and the theft of the presidency in 2000.
I guess we should be glad she didn’t throw in the persecution of the Israelites by the Pharaoh.
The problem with such nonsense — and I’m sorry, but it is nonsense — of course, isn’t that it will allow Hillary to strip Obama of the nomination. That isn’t going to happen.
No, as Marshall goes on to note, the big problem is that it’s pumping up Clinton’s supporters to believe that the nomination has been stolen from her: “a belief many won’t soon abandon.” And that could very well land John McCain in the White House.
So let’s play devil’s advocate: let’s assume that Hillary Clinton’s actions play a role in John McCain being elected, or even that they’re perceived as having played such a role. Under such a scenario, will Clinton, as so many pundits seem to assume, have a wide open path to the nomination in 2012?
Not a chance.
If Obama loses in November — after such tremendous hope for a Democratic year — there will be more than enough anger within the Democratic Party to go around. And Obama and his supporters won’t be the only ones tarred.
Sure, passionate Clinton supporters will scream I told you so until they’re even bluer in the face than they already are. Beltway pundits will declare that the party threw away its best chance at victory by letting those damn “hippies” rob Hillary of the prize (the same way they’d argue just the opposite were the roles reversed).
But they’ll be plenty of screaming going back the other way, too. Millions of angry fingers will be pointed at Clinton, who will stand accused, fairly or unfairly, of sabotaging the ticket. The term “Ralph Nader Clinton,” or something close to it, will come into everyday use — count on it.
An Obama loss will lead to an inferno within the Democratic Party: and neither Obama nor Clinton will survive it with their presidential aspirations intact. Democrats will never want to walk down this same road again.
There’s no 2012 option for Hillary Clinton. And hopefully, for the sake of the party and the nation, she knows it.