Charlie Cook: "Even in victory, she isn't getting any closer"
by MBNYC, Thu Apr 24, 2008 at 05:16:11 AM EDT
Amidst the frenzied flurry of Clintonista talking points filling the air like confetti at a ticker tape parade, the voices of reason are having a harder time getting heard.
One such voice is political analyst Charlie Cook.
If this contest were still at the point where momentum, symbolism, and reading tea leaves mattered, Clinton would be in pretty good shape. Everything she has needed to happen is happening now. Obama is getting tougher press coverage and critical examination. He's also getting rattled a bit, and he didn't perform well in the recent debate in Philadelphia. Clinton is winning in big, important places, but it's happening about three months too late.
Cook proceeds to pour some cold water on frenzied goalpost-moving Clintonites trying to change the rules of the contest. >>>
At the end of the day, the popular vote for the Democratic nomination means nothing. I doubt that having won the popular vote in the 2000 general election is of much solace to Al Gore. Many a football team gains more yards than its opponent in a game yet loses on that important technicality called points.[...]
But you can't change how the game is played once it has begun. The Democrats have decided that the nominee will be determined by the number of delegates won, not by the popular vote, and that primaries held in direct violation of party rules (in this case, Florida's and Michigan's) don't count. End of discussion.
What lies ahead?
The race now moves to Indiana and North Carolina, which vote on May 6. Obama appears to be narrowly ahead in the former and enjoys a 20-point advantage in the latter. If given the choice of Clinton's momentum or Obama's money going into two states where he is already ahead, I'd take the money and run.
In some ways, Clinton has spent the past six weeks in a horrible situation. How do you quit a race when you're still winning primaries? The delegate and fundraising pictures looked dismal to the point of near-impossibility, yet she was still taking the big primaries. There was really no way she could have stood on the podium in Philadelphia on Tuesday night and said, "Thank you, Pennsylvania, for this great victory. Oh, by the way, I'm now dropping out."
As long as Clinton is winning, she can't quit. But even in victory, she isn't getting any closer to securing the nomination.
Cook's bemused resistance to Clintonian talking points is a good indicator of where the national conversation will go. The simple fact is that Michigan and Florida will not count at the convention; certainly not Michigan, given the palpably Soviet absurdity of counting a state where Obama was not on the ballot in deference to an agreed-upon DNC posture.
Nor, when it comes right down to it, is the popular vote a measure of relevance (even if Obama remains ahead by any vote count in line with actual DNC rules). This contest began as a quest for delegates, as Cook rightly points out, and remains a quest for delegates. One can argue whether that's the right way to conduct the nominating process. But it is the way all parties involved agreed upon when the primary started, and campaigned accordingly.
Democrats might want to consider establishing some type of "bonus" delegates for winning a state, or at least modifying the party's perverse proportional representation system, which, in a two-way race, makes it extremely difficult to build a lead and almost impossible to overtake an opponent who has one. But for this election, the rules are the rules.
Wait, that's worth repeating:
But for this election, the rules are the rules.
In some ways, it's hard not to feel sympathy for Hillary Clinton and her dedicated supporters. She's been working on securing her place in history for such a long time. She also had the sheer bad luck of going up against a genuine political phenomenon, Barack Obama. And she is fast approaching the point where it will be impossible, between elected delegates and super-delegates, for her to win the nomination.
That point is probably two weeks away, after she loses both Indiana and North Carolina. At that point, barring an upset, the Democratic Party will place our common goals of defeating John McCain over its present indulgence of Clinton's hopes for the top spot. Any other candidate with her performance would have been pushed out of the race by now; that she hasn't been is due simply to respect for her, respect that, say, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani were not given on the other side.
And yes, it is important to give Clinton that deference and respect - up to a point.
It's worth pointing out, however - and Cook is sure to write about this going forward - that all is not lost for Senator Clinton. Despite running a horrifically, staggeringly incompetent campaign, she has secured a very respectable second place. Now, in a zero-sum game, second place is still a loss. But in the real world of politics, Clinton has earned a top spot in the national Democratic leadership. Offered the Vice Presidency, she would probably and rightfully refuse; that office has few inherent powers, and influence only at the pleasure of the President.
No, her real prize is to be the first female Senate Majority Leader. In the real world, there are no zero-sum games.