It would be a grave error for anyone to underestimate Hillary Clinton.
Obama, to his credit, certainly has not. He leapt at the first opportunity to talk to her, in private at AIPAC, in private by phone, and then in a private, on-on-one meeting at Feinstein’s house. Hillary Clinton has power, Barak Obama both wants and needs some of it, and he will do what he must to get it.
Tomorrow Hillary will formally and publicly do what she must, by acknowledging that Obama has won the right to be called the “presumptive” nominee and pledging her support to his candidacy. If one assumes, as one now must, that the decision of the Party elders to make Obama the Democratic nominee at the Convention is sustained, then the only reasonable alternative to avoid a November disaster is to do these two things.
That is, however, quite different from capitulation and subservience, as the media will try and portray it. Being careful to not use metaphors that can be twisted, I will say nothing about giving someone enough rope; instead let me offer that Clinton will praise the majesty of Obama’s petard, giving him the opportunity to either use it to secure his position or to hoist himself upon it. Shakespeare; should be safe enough.
When I listen to Clinton tomorrow, I won’t be focused so much on what she does say as I will be on what she doesn’t. I don’t expect to hear “quit” or “abandon” or “stop” or anything close to that sort of sentiment. I don’t expect to hear “defeated” or “vanquished” or “finished” either. This race is not over, she knows it and Obama knows it, but for the short term it must appear to all and sundry as though they have completely agreed that it is over.
Were Obama in a commanding position, he and his camp would not care what Clinton says or does. If he had a lock on the delegate count, he could simply ignore her and move on, make McCain his focus and press ahead. But his delegate lead is tenuous, and what the superdelegates have given they can as easily take away. Nothing is even close to final until the gavel comes down at the end of the Convention, and then it depends on Obama not stumbling as badly as Thomas Eagleton did in 1972. Even after the Convention, the Party controls the nominee, not the other way around.
Obama needs to show he can win the general election, and so far he has not done so. The Party leadership believes that if the Party can be drawn together he will be able to do so; for that to happen, in their reasoning, Clinton must step aside and let Obama be seen as the sole remaining option in contrast to McCain.
What Obama and the Party also want is Clinton’s database. Harold Ickes, being Harold Ickes, did not trust Howard Dean or the DNC when Clinton began seriously thinking about the Presidency in early 2005. He put together a wholly independent voter/donor database that overlaps to some degree the lists of the DNC and the Obama camp, but I far more organizationally efficient and mere liberally focused. By liberal I mean not “leftist” but more broadly based, with key indicators like economic status and job category and opinion leanings on core progressive issues. That database is, in many ways the key to the kingdom; it could be built from scratch but probably not as completely, and it would draw resources needed elsewhere. Obama and the DNC want it handed over, and Clinton will want something back in return.
What she wants isn’t entirely clear, but it may not be much. Any promises Obama makes now are not worth the air used to voice them, so policy support cannot matter nor can promises of special treatment for future legislation. She does not want the VP job; it is of no value to her and a danger to him. Would you want Bill lurking about inside the house? Obama wants the Big Dog, but he wants him outside, and preferably on a chain. Let Bill inside and he will, in the theatrical phrase, chew the draperies at every opportunity.
Neither should the Party leaders allow her the VP slot; from a tactical standpoint, in accruing Electoral College votes, she cannot overcome his deficits in the “swing” states. If the roles were reversed, it may be that he would not hurt her too badly; as it is, she cannot provide the pull he needs where he is weakest, amongst white men. He needs a strong, reliable, respectable white male to provide balance; Wes Clark is certainly a possibility, Howard Dean would be a stunning choice for multiple reasons, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would perhaps be the strongest breakthrough running mate of all. Time enough later to mull that over; for now, the point is that it will not be HRC.
What she wants, I believe, is no more than to not have to appear submissive. She can sell that to Obama on the basis of how offended, and thus unapproachable, her constituency would be at the prospect. If he wants her public fealty he must, as he has carefully done for the last couple of weeks, treat her with unfailing public respect. He cannot demand that she simply abandon her supporters; having them angry at both him and her does no one any good. Thus, she will “suspend” rather than quit.
Obama, and the Democratic leadership, will get what they are asking for; the clear chance for Obama to show what he can do. Whatever that turns out to be, from Clinton’s standpoint it cannot be seen as her fault he should falter. She has to be able to say, without blushing, that she was every bit as supportive as a person could be. If he succeeds in making it through to the nomination, she will be the loyal Party stalwart. Whatever happens after that, Obama will be entirely on his own and she will be well positioned for 2016 or, if need be, 2012.
But all is not rosy for Obama, even in the short term and with Clinton’s data and support. The claim, for some time, has been that once Clinton was out of the way Obama would blow past McCain and sweep to a majestic new Democratic majority. She’s been de facto gone for a while now, more than a month according to the talking heads and they must know the truth, and so the American people should have been able to start sorting out their feelings. So, how’s that going?
The most recent tracking polls have McCain and Obama still statistically even, as they have been for more than a month. Obama has gotten no bounce from “clinching”. Worse, his head-to-head comparators with McCain continue to lag on the key campaign issues. According to Rasmussen yesterday, McCain is ahead on every measure. (Yes, Republican pollsters but the way they ask the questions is the way the Republicans will frame the issues and how the MSM will report them; These are numbers that should give Obama and the Democrats considerable pause:
The overall Favorable/Unfavorable is even, and McCain has a small but insignificant lead on questions of Who most closely shares my values (43 to 42) and a small but significant advantage on Who is the better leader? (43 to 38). Pressing the leadership question, which is a key Republican talking point, McCain crushes Obama on the question of who will most responsibly manage the war in Iraq – a topic on which the Democrats must dominate to win. On national security in general, still the number two national issue, McCain leads comfortably by 51 to 37. Even on the economy, sinking fast and the biggest national worry, McCain holds a slight lead 44 to 40 even thoughhe freely admits he knows nothing about economic policy and has no program to make anything better.
On the Electoral College front, the picture for Obama has not improved since we last looked at it here at Corrente. I put Hillary at 294 Electoral votes and had Obama stalled at 235 with no more than 252 – 255 likely, but what do I, a rank amateur know? Darryl Holman, statistician extraordinaire, had Obama at 262 and Clinton at an IMHO optimistic 313.
How about the Seriously Important MSM experts? What is the current best opinion there? On the KO/MSNBC show last night, highly paid analysts and fancy computer display master Chuck Todd was asked to provide an analysis “now that Obama is the nominee” and mumbled for five full minutes without spitting up anything definitive. Best he could do was venture that if the election turns into a Democratic rout then Obama will win. “Thanks for that, Chuck, and now in other news….”
In today’s New York Times, however, there is an interesting article describing a newish statistical method that retroactively looked at pre-election polls and state voting histories to project the Electoral vote outcome for the 2004 election. The two astrophysicists reporting their study, J. Richard Gott III and Wes Colley, got the eventual outcome for 49 states right, missing only Hawaii (they failed to adjust for the Maui-Wowie factor, I assume).
When the article’s author, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, applied their methods using current polls to project the November outcome, this is what he sees:
When you complete this exercise for each state, Mr. Obama picks up Colorado, Iowa and New Mexico, three states that went Republican in 2004, but he also loses Michigan and New Hampshire, two states that Mr. Kerry had won. Mrs. Clinton loses the previously Democratic states of New Hampshire and Wisconsin, but she would nab 57 electoral votes from the Republicans by winning Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio.
If the general election were held today, Mr. Obama would win 252 electoral votes as the Democratic nominee, while Mrs. Clinton would win 295. In other words, Barack Obama is losing to John McCain, and Hillary Clinton is beating him.
Pretty reliable sounding, and reasonably in agreement with my numbers so they must be right. (They are astrophysicists, so credit where credit is due; they’ve done well in spite of their training.)
So with Clinton now out of the way and a clear run at McCain, Obama is still in trouble. McCain is seen as more capable, more reliable, and more likely to do the right thing in terms of the mission in Iraq. (What exactly is the mission? Silly question; whatever the mission is, you goose. What are you, unpatriotic?) McCain still leads in the Electoral College, whether your view is from my comfy chair or Holman’s number-cruncher cavern or from deep space, and not even the OFB crowd at MNBC can conjure up a plausible scenario for him winning. Pretty grim.
Hillary Clinton will do what she must now, and watch with the rest of us to see how Boy Wonder does against Mad Maverick in the MMA Summer Showdown. If by the end of August Obama is still struggling, it will be very difficult to keep Clinton sitting on the curb. Maybe that Million Woman March on Denver is not such a bad idea after all.