Analysis: Aftermath of the Democratic Primary

Ironically, it is now, when the Democratic race has finally been settled, when the narrative spun by the media has shifted from, “Clinton has a narrow chance,” to “Clinton has essentially no chance,” that the race is at its most unpredictable.

Prior to Super Tuesday, there was hardly a doubt as to how this race was going to shape up. The upstart from Illinois might get in a good jab here and there, maybe pick up a handful of delegates, and then on Super Tuesday Clinton was going to solidify her status as the Democratic frontrunner.

While that wasn’t exactly how things happened, at least the general theory itself remained stable. Then, of course, Obama did the unthinkable, and hung on through Super Tuesday.

All of a sudden the narrative shifted and we were looking at the upstart with a pledged delegate lead and a full month’s worth of primaries all of which were slated to go his direction. Now, with every successive blowout, Obama was building up a pledged delegate lead but the overriding narrative was that Clinton was using Texas and Ohio as her firewalls.

And so on and so forth.

There’ve been ups and downs, the polls have declared new frontrunners on a daily basis, and through it all there have been two eras. Pre-February where Clinton was the likely nominee, and post-February where Obama was the likely nominee.

Amidst all the chaos, there was a stability behind everything; for a primary that didn’t seem to want to end, at least its persistence gave an air of reliability even if nothing else could. No matter what happened, you knew the next day would bring more back and forth between the two Democratic challengers.

But, as I say, we are in a new era where there is no longer a likely nominee, but a nominee, and someone else who is choosing to remain in the race. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean for that to sound negative, that’s just the way the media is choosing to build the picture (personally, I felt the primary ended on March 6th, when Hillary’s victories failed to bring her the kind of delegate success necessary to counteract Obama’s February streak).

We have a nominee, but he is not fully certified, and we have a runner up, but let’s face it, Hillary Clinton is no average runner up. While I’ve seen the analogy thrown around here and there, Clinton is no Mike Huckabee.

To the victor go the spoils so the saying goes, but I think not in this race, and while the media is more than willing to call a TKO in favor of Obama, it is not over. And this is what creates chaos when one would think that order, finally, has decided to grace us.

Interestingly, what makes the next month difficult to call is that Clinton as a person and a candidate is herself paradoxical. It is difficult to separate character from caricature, the chasm between the two only widened in the emotionally heated environment of such a closely fought campaign.

Is she an evil, power-hungry monster, or merely ambitious to a fault? Is she misguided in wanting what is best for the party, or has party loyalty always taken back seat to her own goals? Is there a person underneath the many personas, or are vestiges of humanity merely ploys to relate to humans?

The questions surrounding Hillary Clinton are indeed unkind, but that they were never fully answered over the course of a campaign, nor were better ones asked, we are robbed of understanding what is going on with Clinton right now as I type this (it’s possible she’s sleeping), and thus what to expect.

Is she angling to be on the ticket for the fall? Or is perhaps the legacy of her and her husband the top priority? Clinton as a running mate has become a highly debated topic as the words of those who know the Clintons the best parse the words of those aides and staffers who have been leaking just how much confidence has left the USS Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, Carl Bernstein provides some compelling arguments that that is exactly what Clinton is going after, even when the Obama campaign may still remain particularly displeased with the notion. One thing is for certain; while we may never know if Clinton and Obama are truly friends as Obama has suggested in debates, I feel pretty safe in asserting that their staffs absolutely can’t stand each other.

Which shows us the competing forces for and against an Obama/Clinton ticket. The “Dream Ticket” or “Unity Ticket” serves one major goal, and that would be to provide a means of healing the party rapidly at a time when it is looking like we will need months to accomplish that feat. Heavy wounds have been inflicted upon supporters on both sides, and those will take time to heal, but a unity ticket could work wonders in solidifying the base in an orderly and relatively faster fashion allowing Obama to make a General Election push.

But this comes with it a severe price. Despite the intra-party animosity, the Unity Ticket does not speak to Mrs. Clinton’s electability as a whole, and the worth that she would bring to a ticket in the General Election. Yes, Obama/Clinton ’08 would be the hands down favorite to win President and Vice President of the Democratic party’s United States of America, but Clinton doesn’t necessarily provide the kind of appeal to voters that Obama can’t appeal to.

Yes, I know what everyone’s been saying, that Obama’s having issues bringing in the white blue collar vote, to which I say that much of this is largely irrelevant as of right now. We’re saying this because the states that are voting right now, the white vote is going to Clinton. But we’re going to end this primary on Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota where Obama will win the white working-class vote.

Will the pundits then say that Obama has made inroads, or will they be more intellectually honest and note that there are regional associations to the white blue-collar vote that he has a problem attracting?

And that’s just one of the issues when it comes to the demographics that are emerging from the Democratic primary. There’s the highly promised defection population of Clinton voters, a number that as I have stated countless times in the past is incredibly soft when you consider that there will be, at this rate anyway, plenty of time to heal, and for people’s emotions to calm down, and for the defection number to go down. Similarly, I think it’s incredibly premature to assume that because a white working class person didn’t vote for Obama in the primary those voters will not vote for him in the General Election.

Thus, I think it is important to understand that right now choosing Clinton as a running mate may be seen as repairing the link to a demographic Obama seems to have lost, I don’t think that is going to be as big a problem as many are making it seem. To that end, if Clinton is not integral in accomplishing at least that task, what good does she do to the ticket beyond that?

Her crossover appeal is virtually nil; she is quite possibly the single most hated politician among the Republican rank and file, and with her incredibly high negatives, it is difficult imagining her contributing a huge amount of the swing vote.

She doesn’t provide much of a geographic advantage either.

Further, just their campaign styles alone are too antithetical. Traditionally it is desirable to have a running mate that is different and complementary to the top of the ticket but in this case, I think Clinton and her staff are too different. Picking her as a running mate may damage the integrity of the core messaging and themes of the Obama campaign. Given that these devices are likely to be the foundation from which the Obama campaign responds to attacks by both independent groups and RNC and McCain endorsed entities, it is positively vital for Obama to maintain that integrity intact.

But while Clinton may not be the wisest choice, there is definitely a strong argument that she deserves it. Indeed, she deserves a lot coming out of this primary race, even if the nomination is not to be among her prizes.

I say this because, after all is said and done, Clinton was not demolished. She was no Biden or Dodd, Kucinich or Gravel. She didn’t fold like a bad hand like Giuliani did in the Republican race, and she didn’t overtly underwhelm like Mitt Romney. Despite everything that has been said up to this point, she kept it close the whole way through, and that conditionally earns her a lot of political capital.

I say conditionally because there is still one wicket left for her to clear before she can make such a claim. She must show true leadership in healing the party. It can’t be something she says on the stump, and it can’t be an offhand remark. In the next few weeks, Clinton must lead the very passionate supporters that have buoyed her presidential aspirations this far into a mindset that they will support the Democratic nominee.

This above everything else she must do, for those spoils that are rightfully hers are hers only if she is a Democrat, and in this year, winning the presidential election is paramount. That’s not to say that Obama doesn’t share the responsibility of winning the hearts and minds of these voters who have grown in antipathy towards him, but because the most ardent of Clinton’s legions are what they are, she must lead the charge.

And she can do it simply by saying something to the effect of, “If you’re not supporting Obama if he becomes the nominee, you never really supported me or the message I was promoting.” After all, to a degree this is largely true if we look at the similarity of their platforms and the vast difference between either of them and John McCain.

Failure to do this could greatly hurt Clinton’s political future, especially if Obama ends up losing in the fall. One thing that I think Clinton should be most keen on doing is not appearing to cause a loss in the General Election this year, and with the state of everything on the ground being what it is right now; if there are no significant changes soon, that will most certainly be what it will look like, and if she wants to run again in 2012, she will find herself greatly impeded by an embittered pool of Super Delegates, and at least half of the party that will take a great deal of convincing.

Indeed, she already faces an effect of this sort among the Senate. As Bernstein further points out in his piece, Clinton’s most recent gaffe about “hard working white Americans” has greatly hindered her chances of climbing up the rungs of power on the floor of the Senate. This at a time when she should be able to effectively make a bid, at the very least, for Senate Majority Leader.

Her reputation, her legacy, and her political future, whether it be to assume Harry Reid’s role, or to become the governor of New York (another rumor I have heard floating around here and there), all depend upon whether or not Clinton can be pro-Obama, and more importantly, turn a considerable amount of her supporters pro-Obama as well.

Should she do this, doors open up. For instance, there’s the $20 million debt that Clinton has built up over the course of this campaign that the Obama campaign could be coaxed into paying off. Axelrod may dismiss the idea out of hand, that twenty mil could be money well spent for Obama who, even if Clinton is successful in preaching a new unity theme, will still have to a long way to offer an olive branch to voters he will need in his corner come the fall.

Clinton will have an opportunity to convince Obama to take on portions of her platform, most notably healthcare. On a side note, I have mixed feelings about both of their healthcare proposals. I appreciate that Clinton’s plan brings us closer to universal health care however, I favor Obama’s because I think it is more politically viable. Healthcare’s a tricky subject in this political climate, and while we may be more open to single payer universal healthcare than ever before, we still won’t be able to do so without a major fight, and I think a slower, more prudent apporach may net more dividends in the end. But that’s off the topic.

Also, doing so would take Clinton, who is precariously close to becoming a party pariah, and elevate her to party elder. While the Senate doesn’t seem amped on her becoming the majority leader now, ending this campaign on a positive and unifying note can go a long way towards changing their minds. There can also be a restoration of the legacy that has been tarnished somewhat due to a particularly ham-handed campaign (and, in the case of Bill Clinton, an insensitive loose tongue has not gone far in solidifying his role amongst many Democrats in perpetuity).

Shorter: Over the next few weeks, Clinton has the opportunity to be hero or villain, savior or downfall, and that will depend upon how close to home the caricatures drawn of her actually are.

She may just well find herself on the ticket after all (though, for that to truly work there must be, without question, true reconciliation within the party, no ifs ands or buts).

What will happen? It’s a crapshoot. But my gut tells me that we’re going to see the Clinton team soften its tone against Obama. It’ll make one last, admittedly futile, push in West Virginia where Clinton is expected to win by an enormous margin.

I think that will be the last time that the Clinton campaign seriously tries to press the media narrative following a contest. I severely doubt Clinton will attempt to do so in the terms that got her in so much trouble with the USAToday interview, but they will push all the same–tomorrow will be Clinton’s closing argument.

Following that, I don’t expect to see any negative talk against Obama at all. Indeed, reports of Clinton on the stump have alluded to the fact that Obama has all but disappeared with only faint hints acknowledging his existence.

Talk about Florida and Michigan will continue, but at this point I think the DNC is going to stall out until the rest of the states have voted and hope that Obama is by then clearly the nominee. At that point, they can do whatever they want with Michigan and Florida and it won’t actually affect the outcome.

On May 20th, Oregon and Kentucky will have voted, and Obama will have won Oregon and Kentucky will be won by Clinton. I do not expect Clinton to make an overtly big deal out of this win though, and even if she does it will likely get drowned out by a media driven narrative that Obama’s win in Oregon all but sealed the deal.

For the last two states of Montana and South Dakota, I think at that point it will all be about Obama. I think Clinton will continue to campaign, but there will likely be absolutely no references to him. There’s even a possibility that she will ultimately campaign for him, a la Todd Beeton’s “Unity Tour” idea. What we see may not be so friendly, but I could imagine that something like that occurs.

Of course, this all assumes that Super Delegates don’t put an end to things at this point, but I don’t think they will, at least, not unless Hillary forces them to.

And that’s the crux of the matter. I think Clinton’s going to start playing nicer and nicer, and as long as she plays nice, the Super Delegates going to Obama will do so in a slow trickle. If, on the other hand, she redeploys a “kitchen sink” strategy, the trickle is going to be a flood.

Assuming she plays nice, once the final tickets are over, I would expect Clinton to cede the race and endorse within a matter of days. She may hold on to get Michigan and Florida seated but if the math at that point works out the way I think it will, seating the two states in some fashion then will hardly be a difficult task, and then we should see a Clinton endorsement.

Of course, take this all with a grain of salt. We can’t know what’s going through Clinton’s head at this point, and I suppose an argument could be made that if we could know that, she might be in a better position for the nomination than she is now. But things aren’t how we would like them to be, or how others would like them to be, but instead simply are.

The way things are, there are an infinite number of possibilities. Clinton could launch a scorched earth campaign, or she could retire this week, but the path I have suggested strikes me as the least exciting, and least newsworthy path out there. In fact, it’s pretty dull.

But then, considering how “exciting” this primary has been, I could use a few boring weeks.

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