Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why It's Time For Hillary to Dropout of the Race (JM)

It pains me to write this. Let me say upfront that I sincerely believe the Democratic electorate has made a sincere mistake. Barack Obama is going to have a much tougher time against John McCain than Hillary would have. This is despite the polls that indicate otherwise, since those polls mean absolutely nothing as no contrast between the candidates had yet been made. I also think Hillary would have made a better president, more able to exact concessions from the Republicans. Let's just say I have a cynic's faith in the ability of this "movement" to sustain itself. That said, it is time for Hillary to go.

It's not just that she has received ten losses in a row, it's that they have gotten progressively worse for her. It's easy to blame the media for this, in fact the entire narrative of this campaign can be seen as a function of their choices. This is a seriously interesting question, that will require some serious thinking about in the next election cycle. Consider that we hold the media establishment to be part of a free, democratic society, but in many ways the voice of the media is a real palatable force that undermines democratic choice. The standard response to this, is that the market will regulate media forces; as people will tune in to the news that is most accurate. However, that neglects the fact that a perfect market requires perfect information and it is totally unclear how one can regulate the market of information itself. But, I digress here, it is an interesting question to pick up at some later time. The point of all of this is, with every Obama win the media continued to coronate him, thus propelling him from one state to the next. The effect here was to slowly disintegrate Hillary's base, until Wisconsin last night, a very white working-class state, went solidly for Obama. Hillary barely won amongst women and lost every other demographic group.

Now the media smells blood. Political obituaries of the Clintons are starting to pop up everywhere. She absolutely needs to win Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania and she needs to win them big. This no longer seems like a very likely proposition, absent some extreme game changer. There are two possible ways this happens: 1) Clinton could absolutely mutilate Obama in the next debate; 2) She can go nuclear with the negative attacks against Obama. Let's examine both scenarios.

Let's says she wins the debate big. There are a litany of issues from which she can draw a contrast: health care, environment and energy, economic rebates, etc. The problem is that if she makes a successful attack on, let's say health care mandates, but Obama still wins the nomination, her attacks will be used against Obama in the general and, more importantly, by GOP legislators come the fall. The other type of problem Hillary could create is on an issue like the environment. By all accounts Obama is more green than McCain (actually the double meaning almost certainly applies here). However, there is a clear perception that McCain, of Republicans, is pretty friendly towards environmental legislation. Should Hillary muddy the waters (which is certainly possible, given Obama's support of the Cheney environmental legislation) on this issue, it will be much harder to leverage this as an issue in the general.

The second type of victory would come from finally landing an attack on Obama's inexperience. The issue here is that this basically echoes McCain's talking points as well. It's a perfectly legitimate argument and there has been a lot of speculation as to why the voters aren't buying it. In fact, there are some who go so far as to speculate that McCain is wasting his time with these arguments. These people are dead wrong, early in the election it was the liberal base that was driving Hopementum, not the independents he was attracting. This is why the experience arguments of the most seasoned Democratic candidates did not quite fly (also, again, the media). Once it was contrast between Clinton and Obama I suspect people simply were not buying the massive experience distinction between the two candidates. Now, I think that there is a very real distinction, not quite what Clinton claims, but still a distinction. However, what I think matters not at all, or we'd be waiting for the Biden/Obama ticket at the convention (perhaps, we will see Obama/Biden... silly, but a solid ticket nonetheless). But regardless, voters will see the experience distinction in play between Obama and McCain. If the Clintons make the arguments against experience in any way more vociferous than they currently are, they will be unable to be part of the coming election. In fact, the entire machine will almost be rendered useless, while helping give McCain a leg up.

Regardless of what you feel about Bill and Hillary, winning the general without their machine is almost unthinkable. They still own the best attack dogs in town, and are the best at defending against GOP tactics like "swift-boating" or "Michelle Obamaing". The truth is that this is an odds thing now. If I thought that Hillary had a better than twenty percent chance of taking this nomination, I would be in favor of it. The harm, at this point, outweighs the merits of pressing forward, thus I am forced to conclude that she should dropout.

That said, once this campaign is over, it is time for us to take a long hard look at a primary process that favors intensity over preference and would disenfranchise voters because of the actions of their party leaders. The truth is that if Michigan and Florida counted there is no doubt Hillary would have won a substantial number of delegates there and this whole narrative would have been different. Imagine how the momentum story would have looked if Hillary had pulled off NH, MI, and FL all in a row. Of course, this all points to the press needing to be more responsible in constructing campaign narratives, or a system that doesn't allow them such long term influence. For better of for worse, Barack Obama is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party now, and it'll take a disaster to stop him... we probably should not generate that disaster internally.

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