Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Clinton's Coup

OK, I went back to work for, like, three minutes, and it didn't end well. On with the ranting.

A lot of people on the left (and for all I know, the right, although I find it hard to believe they really care one way or the other) are concerned that Clinton's only successful strategy for winning the Democratic nomination is what's being referred to as "coup by super-delegate". Now, if everything stays the same as it is right now, those commentators are almost certainly correct. And the general feeling seems to be that if she did somehow pull that off (which can safely be considered a Hail Mary play at this point), it will rip the party apart, because the super-delegates will essentially have looked at which candidate won the most primaries, the most caucuses, the most states, and the most actual votes, and said "Fuck you, American citizenry". Of course, that part the right really is interested in, much in the same way I'm interested in getting laid tonight. It isn't something I'm really expecting, but I'm certainly prepared to consider as a pleasing hypothetical.

But the key phrase in all the above is "if everything stays the same." There is a second method by which Clinton can get the nomination, and that's by Obama being completely destroyed by some upcoming scandal. The Reverend Wright situation proved that there are chinks his armour; he has so far weathered the latest storm fairly well (in fact in my view at least has become a more attractive candidate), but the idea his campaign is an unstoppable juggernaut is clearly incorrect.

What it is, is unstoppable by Clinton directly (and she needs to give up on some of the attempts she's been making recently; Clinton > Obama is an entirely reasonable strategy, but Clinton = McCain > Obama most certainly isn't). But that doesn't mean something else won't take him out between now and the convention, and whilst it's hardly fair on him to point out the odds of that are increased because he is black, it doesn't make it any less true, and that's hardly Clinton's fault.

So she keeps doing her best to remain competitive, and (more importantly at this stage) to remind people that she exists, and no-one has to feel like it's Obama or nothing at this point. Is just holding on until the convention in the hope Obama goes aground somehow a feasible strategy? Not really. But at this point I don't see it as demonstrably less likely to work out than persuading the super delegates to snatch her out of the fire will.

The attractiveness of this theory is that Clinton obviously can't say that she's doing it. If at any point she throws up her hands and says "Fine; I'm only still in this race on the off chance Obama's horse might tread on a mine", then she really has had it. Her share of the primary votes will plummet, and even if lightning does strike the Republicans will never let her forget that that's how she secured the nomination (not that they would anyhow, but it would be a lot harder to shrug off once she admitted it herself). If this is her plan, she would do exactly what she is doing; fighting a state, then trying to minimise the loss of face if she fails, and making overtures to the superdelegates. Delaying tactics, essentially. Many are calling for her to give up, so that we know who our candidate is going to be and we can start gearing up to fight McCain, but I've never really bought into that. Continuing the primaries robs McCain of some of his air-time (and the recent gaffes and irregularities that the media have bent over backwards trying to explain, forgive or disappear proves that lack of attention on him is probably the best we can hope for right now), and it would be a poor political operative indeed who found themselves unable to create strategies and talking points for the coming general that wouldn't serve either candidate. Notwithstanding the constant low-level sniping from Clinton, which as I say she should knock-off, and the fact that I personally am tired of the whole thing and want it over with, I genuinely see no compelling reason why this has to be wrapped up ASAP. It's also worth noting, as many have, that the only reason Clinton is still running is the number of super-delegates who have yet to endorse either candidate is high enough to mean the coup strategy (whether it's a bluff or not) has legs. She's still running because she wants to be president and that isn't yet impossible to achieve. The undecided super-delegates are deliberately extending that run, presumably in the hope that they won't have to come down on one side or another if Clinton finally gives up. Which, since it's pretty much their job to pick sides, makes me wonder if Clinton is the right target for the anger of those who want this settled sooner rather than later.

Of course, I'm pretty confident it won't work, and Obama will make it to the convention without imploding. (or, alternatively, will eventually pick up enough super-delegates for it to finally be a done deal). It's only then that we'll get to see whether or not Clinton's strategy is genuinely what so many people believe it to be. She may just use her first address to the conference delegates to tell them she's packing it all in, and thanks for the memories, which will make everyone who's convinced her political goals are more important to her than the democratic party (and let's not forget that she needs the latter to gain the former in any event, because her goal is to become President, and that requires more than the nomination, a fact she is certainly aware of) look pretty stupid, and somewhat mean-spirited too.

The short version of all of this is: perhaps we shouldn't assume Clinton is too batshit insane to care about starting a civil war until she starts a civil war. I'm not discounting the possibility, but I certainly object to it being characterised as a self-evident truth.

Update: The Daily Kos agrees with me, too. So there.

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