19 August 2008

Should the convention nominate Clinton?

The PUMA blogosphere has been, not exactly abuzz but rather tentatively murmuring, with speculation that the Democratic convention this month might actually nominate Hillary Clinton rather than Obama. The New York Sun last week laid out that speculation explicitly with this article. Obama's lead over Clinton in pledged delegates is quite close (and the popular vote was essentially a tie); either candidate equally needs superdelegate votes to be nominated, which makes this a perfect example of the kind of situation for which the superdelegate system was created. The endorsements or promises made by superdelegates before the convention to vote for a particular candidate are not binding -- at the convention they can vote as they wish. So by the rules of the party, the convention could equally well choose either candidate.

As the Sun article explains, the basis for nominating Clinton is obvious: despite many advantages, including an election year in which the Republican party is massively unpopular, Obama has lost his earlier large lead in the polls and the race with McCain is now neck-and-neck. At this point in the election cycles of 1988 and 2004, Dukakis and Kerry respectively held substantial leads over their Republican opponents, but both still ultimately lost; if Obama's lead has already disappeared, that doesn't bode well for his chances in November. If Obama is such a weak candidate, the party should choose a stronger one who got an essentially equal number of primary votes and would be equally legitimate. That's the argument.

My point in posting here is not to address how likely it is that the convention will actually do this. I think it's obvious that, unless Obama is suddenly engulfed in some scandal or blunder so huge that even his own core followers decide he's unelectable, the probability that the convention will deny him the nomination is vanishingly small. The question I'm interested in here is whether nominating Clinton would actually be a good idea or not.

I've been saying for months that I don't believe Obama can win the general election, and over time I've become progressively more convinced of this. The problem is that, given the situation as it exists now, Clinton probably couldn't win either. Here's why.

First, nominating Clinton instead of Obama at the convention would be far more than a "surprise", as the Sun puts it -- it would be a shocker, an absolutely explosive move. Politics junkies know about the close primary race and the party rules, but the general perception among Democrats and the general public is that Obama has won the nomination and that the convention will be merely a formality to confirm this. The most widespread public reaction to a Clinton upset would probably be bewilderment that such a move was even possible.

Second, absent the gigantic-scandal-or-blunder scenario which I mentioned, denying Obama the nomination would spark outrage among his supporters, who already see him as the nominee and would declare him to have been robbed. Accusations of racism, back-room politics, and God knows what else would fly about. We would immediately be faced with a sort of mirror image of the PUMA movement. An unknowable, but probably large, number of Obama supporters would desert the party. Probably far fewer Obama supporters would vote for McCain over Clinton than PUMAs would vote for McCain over Obama, but I think it's likely that an even larger number would sit out the election. Would Clinton's much greater appeal to working-class and rural voters in the swing states offset this enough to win? It's possible, but with millions of Obama supporters irredeemably alienated, Clinton would have to scramble to hold states that should be reliably Democratic. It's very hard to win when you've turned off a huge chunk of your own party's base, as Obama is now discovering.

To sum up, the poisoned primary process has created a situation where either Democratic candidate would almost certainly lose in November. Clinton's chances would be better than Obama's, but the odds would still be against her.

If defeat is inevitable, what can we do to minimize the harm done by it? Clearly the most important thing we can do is to strengthen Democratic control of Congress, to limit the damage a Republican Presidency could do. But in this area, victory seems as inevitable as defeat in the Presidential race does.

Our priority -- our chance to squeeze some lemonade from the huge and very sour lemon of our current predicament -- should be reforming the party. The problem is not Obama personally; it's the ugly (yet naive) "new politics" he represents, and the nomination process which enabled him to prevail over a far more qualified and experienced candidate, and the party leadership which, by design or negligence, engineered this fiasco. The party needs to get back in touch with its base, to eliminate the undemocratic travesty of caucuses and use primaries exclusively, and to replace the current crop of leaders.

The only way that this will happen is if the blame for the defeat in November falls clearly, and exclusively, where it belongs. The party leaders and the charisma-addled Obama-worshipers and their "new politics" are the ones responsible; let them, and them alone, own the resulting mess. This is why I never wanted to see Clinton as Obama's running mate; she needs to be as far away from the November train wreck as possible. Nominating her instead of Obama, and then having her lose anyway, would confuse the issue even more.

I'm as disappointed as anyone in the way things have turned out. We had a winning year and a great candidate who would have made a strong President, able to solidify the Republican implosion into long-term Democratic dominance. I can still hardly believe we managed to blow it. But the clock can't be turned back; too much has happened over the last few months. We must make the best of the situation we have come to.


Blogger FranIAm said...

I have read this three times in my reader now.

All in all I think we are totally screwed.

Period. No. Way. Out.

19 August, 2008 18:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Yep. As far as this year's Presidential election is concerned, that's about it.

19 August, 2008 19:59  
Blogger Papamoka said...

Your theory Infidel is flawed with the simple fact that Hillary and Bill are now on the Obama for President band wagon. As die hard Democrat representatives of the party they are not going to upset the cart but they do want recognition that a woman could be President. Her name being offered into nomination is just a tactic to pull the party together and that is all it is.

19 August, 2008 21:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Obviously I'm fully aware that the Clintons are now supporting Obama, and unlike some observers I think that Hillary, at least, is completely sincere about it -- much as she would have preferred to be President herself, I think she genuinely wants to prevent another Republican administration.

However, that does not contradict any of my conclusions here. The PUMA movement is not based on mindless personal loyalty to Hillary Clinton, and most of them are not going to vote for Obama just because she supports him.

Anyway, my main point in this posting is that even actually nominating Clinton would not solve our problem because a lot of Obama supporters would then refuse to vote for her. Do you disagree with that?

20 August, 2008 05:03  

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