A Glimpse At Civil War

Yesterday, Kos, in the middle of defending why his site has entrenched itself firmly in the Obama ranks, expressed what a lot of Democrats are feeling at this point regarding Hillary Clinton; that her continued candidacy will result in a bloody civil war amongst Democrats.

More stepping stones than hurdles to that civil war were Michigan and Florida, two states that are being penalized for moving their primary dates up beyond what they were allowed, and now promise to be incredible snags on what should have been an easy path to the White House for whomever ends up being the Democratic nominee.

Florida has already thrown in the towel on trying to find a way to engineer a do-over that would allow at least some of its delegates to be seated at the convention, bringing us even closer to the dreaded civil war that Kos describes.  And now Michigan has fallen, the most recent proposal not likely to see the light of day in any meaningful way.  Should we be readying ourselves for a bloodbath?

Chris Bowers thinks so, and provides a disturbing picture of what that civil war very well may entail.  Worse than the floor fight and backroom rule twisting attempts likely to ensue, however, are the end results.

And that is what the convention fight of 2008 will probably look like. Obama will still probably win, since he leads by 18 delegates even with both Michigan and Florida included, by a much larger amount without either delegation included, and since a significant majority of the undecided Michigan delegates will probably vote for him. However, this will probably make the task of defeating John McCain much more difficult. The party simply won’t have as long of a time to unify after the nomination fight, and quite a few people are going to be extremely upset no matter who ends up winning. After a campaign like this, we need more time to unify than usual, but instead we will have much less. Also, the media surrounding Clinton and Obama will focus on the nomination campaign, not on any general election messaging in which they will engage.


After right years of Bush and a rising progressive tide in America, there was almost no way to blow this presidential election. However, with this galactic screw-up in Michigan, we are now operating with a pretty thin margin of error.

Call me naive, I still don’t think it’s going to rightly come to this, though, thanks to a concept that has been eating away at the back of my mind for a while.

Mind you, we may very well still get there, it all depends upon the Clinton campaign’s ability to maintain a certain level of unpredictability regarding the state of the race.  Keep in mind, what keeps her in the race now is not any realistic chance of winning, but the fact that there is an astronomical chance that she could win.  Because she is Hillary Clinton, she should be at least granted the benefit of the doubt that she might possibly pull off the improbable.

And for now the Democratic leadership is content to let this continue.  Yes, there are more than a few people at all levels that are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how long this is going on, and how divided the support groups for each candidate are getting, but I’m sure there are also a lot of Democrats out there reveling at the record turnouts and the unprecedented attention that the Democratic party is getting this late into the primary season.

There will be a tipping point, however.  Party leadership knows what’s at stake, they know the dangers of a particularly contentious floor fight, and they really know the dangers of letting Florida and Michigan turn into a very big deal.

The way I figure it, as touched upon in comments between myself and reader DrGail in this post, the only real way to mitigate the damage from Florida and Michigan is to render them moot.  Remember, prior to this year, most post Super Tuesday states reluctantly resigned themselves to not having much of a say in the primaries, and Florida and Michigan are only potential death traps now because we are in a situation where potentially every single state has a say.

Don’t get me wrong, what I’m suggesting is not itself without potential negative effects, but at this point, the choice for the party leaders, and more specifically the Super Delegates, is one of the least of available evils.

And as Bowers points out, given the divisiveness of this election among the supporters and the energized grassroots and netroots, we are going to need more time to heal, not less.

Thus, I think as we get closer to having to face the consequences of Florida and Michigan, and a floor fight that has the potential of turning away a vital chunk of the party support, you’re going to see Super Delegates break for one candidate or the other in anticipation of that in order to end the process before it becomes electoral poison.

Again, a lot of this hinges upon the magnitude of Hillary’s chances to win the nomination, so we’re not going to see this happen after Pennsylvania where she is expected to win by 15 to 20 points and pull a net delegate gain of 20-30.

A haul like that does not actually improve Hillary’s delegate math at all, it actually worsens it a little more, but it is unfeasible to push off a candidate after a big win.  More likely, you’re going to see a lot of eyes on Indiana and North Carolina where Obama is expected to win, possibly big enough to negate the net gain that Hillary made.

Whether he does or not won’t matter much.  If Hillary then fails to make a decisive win in either state, that is going to kill any potential momentum she has (remember how short-lived her Texas and Ohio momentum was?) as well as catapult her chances of making up ground in delegates from astronomical to the raw theoretical.

It is possible that she may drop out at this point, but I don’t think we’ve seen any indicators to believe such a thing.  It is here, at this point, that I think you’re going to start seeing Super Delegates begin to start throwing their support for Obama.  They won’t do it so fast so as to appear to put the breaks on this thing in order to override the process, but they will do it fast enough to let everyone know what the writing on the wall is.

If Hillary actually manages to win NC and Indiana, the game changes a bit.  Again, it’s difficult to push someone out after a win, and two unexpected wins will definitely stall out Super Delegates who will at this point be itching to see an end to things.  From there it’s a waiting game.  If Obama continually fails to put a stop to her in contests following that, at some point the Super Delegates may start breaking for her, allowing her to keep up “momentum” that she can carry with her into the General Election.

Of course, I could be woefully wrong, and this thing is allowed to go to a brokered convention, but here we are, a little over a month before Pennsylvania, and there are already plenty of Democrats eager to see this contest come to an end.  There’s no telling how much more divisive this election’s going to get, and in all likelihood, the potential to do the eventual nominee more harm is going to grow.

By the time we get out of Pennsylvania, this desire to end the primary is likely to be exponentially greater than it is now and it is hard for me to believe that the several hundred Super Delegates who have the ability to put an early end to this thing are going to sit on their hands and let all of the landmines that lay ahead blow the legs off of the party’s shot to make it to the White House.

I just have a hard time seeing that happening.

You want to avoid the cost of an ugly convention floor fight, possible depressed turnout in Florida and Michigan, as well as turning off half of the party’s support by undemocratically selecting a nominee?  You wait a bit, let Obama ring up a couple of solid wins in Indiana and North Carolina, throw a heap of Super Delegate support behind him, and let the next state’s pledged delegates push him over the line.

Amazingly, this could still leave room for Hillary Clinton to contest the delegate count, no doubt arguing that Super Delegates can change their mind at any time, but it will be an argument that I think will largely fall on deaf ears at that point.

Again, there’s no easy way out of this, and this solution itself provides plenty of criticism, but that’s just an allusion to what a fine mess the party has gotten us into, isn’t it?

2 Responses to “A Glimpse At Civil War”

  1. lkm55 says:

    Actually, there’s nothing in the DNC rules that say pledged delegates have to stay committed to the candidate. With that in mind the potential for disaster raises geometrically.
    As Will Rogers used to say: “I’m not a member of any organized political paryt, I’m a democrat.”

  2. No, you’re right about that, but good god if using Super Delegates to overturn the popular vote is going to kill the eventual nominee, just imagine what will happen if the pledged delegates get poached!

    I think you will actually see the netroots actively go after Hillary in the General Election.

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