Friday, May 09, 2008

Hillary Clinton should not drop out....yet

An editorial from Motherjones is getting some well-deserved linkage around a lot of blogs. The most important bit is where it highlights what Clinton's three options are now, and the ramifications of them:
First, keep fighting like nothing has changed. When their candidate is challenged, Clinton supporters respond with huge monetary shows of support. And when their careers are challenged, the Clintons themselves kick it into another gear. Hillary Clinton can double down on the upcoming primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky (where she leads by large margins), ratchet up the calls to seat Michigan and Florida, make a zillion phone calls to superdelegates every day, and hope that Obama gets caught in another Reverend Wright-esque sandstorm. (It wouldn't hurt to drop the gas tax pander.) Rumors persist about one last piece of truly nuclear opposition research the Clinton campaign has held back about Obama. It could release some such thing; the only danger is that if Clinton does not win the nomination, the Democratic nominee may be fatally wounded. But wounding the nominee is obviously not a concern if the Clinton campaign chooses this option, anyway.

Second, she can drop out immediately. Despite the calls for this that are certain to ring through Obama-friendly parts of the blogosphere today, this may not be the best option for Obama. If Clinton drops out this week, Obama may lose the upcoming primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky to someone who is not on the ballot.

Third, lay the groundwork for a graceful exit in a few weeks. Assuming that Clinton sees the end of the road on the horizon, this choice has several advantages over option number two. First, the Clintons have donated a lot of their own money to the campaign; staying in and continuing to raise funds allows them to retire some of that debt. Second, the last two weeks of the campaign can take a conciliatory tone, attempting to convince Democratic voters who have cast their lot with Clinton that Obama ain't so bad after all. This would go a long way in rehabilitating Bill and Hillary Clinton's reputations within the Democratic Party, and position Hillary for a vice presidential selection, should she be interested. If she hopes to be a future Senate Majority Leader or a candidate in 2012, this route may be the necessary one.

I find myself thinking that option three is indeed the best one, politically speaking. So, I suspect, would most Democratic powerbrokers. Should Obama be the nominee, the realpolitik of it is that he most likely cannot within the general election without the support of people who are currently supporting Hillary Clinton. The terms of Hillary Clinton's exit would have to be such that there is no perception of being unfairly forced out, and that there is a call for Democratic supporters of Hillary to be Democrat supporters first and Hillary supporters second. Ideally such a call would come from Hillary Clinton herself.

The first, not being forced out, requires all remaining primaries to be held. Yes, it's tough, but as someone else once told me, the best way for Obama to win the primaries is to, simply, win the primaries. There must be no doubt who came first overall.

The second, the call for unity, reminds me of just how ugly and dirty a game politics can be. How would it go? The Democratic powerbrokers would be having a little conversation with Hillary, saying something like "you can stay in, frankly we don't think you're going to win, but we're not going to subject you to the humiliation of a lockout. We'll even throw in a nice little earner for you later down the track: how does Senate Majority Leader sound? In return for us being so nice and not chucking you out on your ear, you stop playing attack politics on Obama and start saying good things about him every chance you get. You'll endorse him when he wins, right? Make sure your supporters will back him even though he's not you? Good. Then you can stay in, and keep telling people you're in it to win it, although of course we all know different (*evil chuckles*)."

That last bit was gratuitous, but I do think politics can get that nasty. I'm under no illusions that Barack Obama will magically stop things being nasty, but of course I don't think it's down to him to stop it. It's down to us.

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