Written by Roger Aronoff
May 16, 2008
By Roger Aronoff
As Hillary Clinton won a huge victory in West Virginia last Tuesday, the political pundits began to change their tune. Ever since the previous week’s primary returns, in which Hillary lost big to Barack Obama in North Carolina, and barely squeaked by with a win in Indiana, the assumption was that the race was over, and it was just a matter of how she would make her exit. Perhaps she would wait till she could go out on a winning note in West Virginia, suggested NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Or maybe she would finish out the primaries on June 3, and bow out at that point, for the good of the party, when enough Superdelegates chose Obama to put him over the top.
But it now seems clear that Senator Clinton intends to be in it to the end, and that she has a strategy to take the Democratic presidential nomination away from Obama. This will make for exciting media coverage.
“We now know who the Democratic nominee’s going to be, and no one’s going to dispute it,” said Tim Russert on MSNBC the night of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. “Those closest to her will give her a hardheaded analysis, and if they lay it all out, they’ll say: ‘What is the rationale? What do we say to the undeclared Superdelegates tomorrow? Why do we tell them you’re staying in the race?’ And tonight, there’s no good answer for that.”
Time magazine declared Obama the nominee with a cover story that said, “And the nominee is…” with a picture of Obama. On “The Early Show” on CBS, Bob Schieffer said, “Basically…this race is over.” On ABC, George Stephanopoulos said, “This nomination fight is over.” And Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel said that “I think the Clinton people know the game is almost up.”
Andrea Mitchell is reporting even today, that “for the first time now, her [Hillary] people, her closest aides, are saying, ‘she knows the reality, we know the reality.’ They’re acknowledging that she’s not going to win this?that she is really just going through the motions. And that’s a big change.” But there is little indication that Hillary has accepted this notion.
Comedy of Errors
In a column last summer I took Russert to task for stating with certainty that we would know on Super Tuesday who the nominees were going to be. There he goes again. The pundits have been wrong before and they will probably be wrong again.
Indeed, they are singing a different tune this week. Terry McAuliffe challenged Russert on Meet the Press last Sunday, asking, “Did it become an avalanche after Tuesday, when you and others were all on the air saying it was over?” Russert got defensive and said that he was only quoting others. “The Clinton campaign says it’s the media. What we did,” said Russert, “is add up the delegates, call Clinton supporters and say, ‘Is the math there?’ Clinton supporters said ‘No.’”
But what it would take for Obama to get “over the top” was in flux. It has been, and the networks’ graphic still says, that the total needed is 2025 delegates. But over the last couple of weeks, Hillary’s team has abandoned that number. The new number is 2209, or 2210, which is one more than half the delegates, if Florida and Michigan get to seat all of their delegates. This is supposed to be decided at a May 31 Rules committee meeting, but up to now, Howard Dean has been too weak of a party chairman to be able to engineer a compromise that would satisfy both Obama and Clinton.
Another Russert Error
On Tuesday night, during the coverage of the West Virginia primary, Russert said that “48 hours ago on Meet the Press, Terry McAuliffe said he was willing to seat half of the delegations of Michigan and Florida.” But in fact, McAuliffe didn’t say that. When Russert asked him on Meet the Press if he would accept that compromise, McAuliffe said, “We certainly might, you bet. But in fairness, the Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet on, on the 31st to make that decision.” When pressed on the issue again by Russert, he again deferred to the Rules and Bylaws Committee and said, “it’s up to them to make that decision.” That is a distinction with a significant difference.
The problem for the Democrats and the media stars that love them is that Hillary has emerged as the stronger candidate with wider appeal, but only after the media had abandoned her for the “Rock Star” Obama. It is now apparent that Obama has serious weaknesses on policy matters, like the reason for and effect of raising capital gains taxes, and his willingness to meet unconditionally at the presidential level with some of the world’s worst tyrants.
Just as important, perhaps, are his links to and handling of the situations with his controversial former minister Jeremiah Wright and the unrepentant terrorist and former Weatherman William Ayers. These have hurt him in immeasurable ways. The exit polls in West Virginia showed that 50% of the voters believe that Obama shares Jeremiah Wright’s views to some degree, and nearly half of those who voted for Hillary said that if Obama is their party’s nominee, they won’t vote for him. His radical ties are showing, and his efforts to distance himself without seeming to repudiate his past have been unconvincing.
In this 12-round heavyweight championship fight, Hillary spotted these cuts over Obama’s eye and has been pounding away. The problem for Hillary is that in a 12-round fight, to extend the metaphor, if one party wins the first seven or eight rounds, the other party needs a knockout punch to win. In determining the winner, the early rounds count equally to the late rounds. At one point, immediately after Super Tuesday on February 5, Obama won 10 straight primaries and caucuses, by an average of about 30 points each. Those count too.
Plus, Hillary, while becoming a better candidate, has continued to make mistakes. Earlier it was her lie, or as Larry King called it, a “mistruth,” about running to avoid sniper fire in Bosnia. More recently, she has been brutally criticized for her comment to USA Today, in which she cited an Associated Press story that referred to an exit poll that “found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.” Clinton had a valid point, but she was politically incorrect to refer to “white” voters.
Bob Herbert, the black columnist for the New York Times said that those comments were the equivalent of saying, “He can’t win! Don’t you understand? He’s black! He’s black!” Added Herbert, “The Clintons have been trying to embed that gruesomely destructive message in the brains of white voters and Superdelegates for the longest time. It’s a grotesque insult to African-Americans, who have given so much support to both Bill and Hillary over the years.”
She’s a Fighter
But now, if we are to take her at her word, Hillary appears determined to fight on. She told the crowd in West Virginia Tuesday night that “…I never give up. I'll keep coming back, and I'll stand with you as long as you stand with me.” Money isn’t a problem for the Clintons, other than the appearance of weakness for having to dip into their personal hundred-million-dollar kitty. There is no Federal Election Commission watching because the two parties are fighting over who will be seated to fill the vacancies. The Clintons also have potential access to funds from other accounts, although dipping into them could pose legal problems. Millions of dollars have been raised by Bill Clinton for the Clinton Library and the Clinton Global Initiative.
Using money from questionable sources is not new for the Clintons. During the 1996 election cycle, Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee took at least $3 million from sources linked to China, and claimed to have paid it back after getting caught. Even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell questioned the Clintons’ trustworthiness on money matters, saying on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “We don’t know and won’t know whether their claims of having enough money [to continue on with the campaign] are accurate and truthful.”
Regardless of what happens with Michigan and Florida, and even if Superdelegates appear on paper to give Obama the number of delegates he needs to win, Hillary still probably won’t get out. For one thing, as Politico has reported, there is little agreement among the various news agencies exactly how many Superdelegates are committed to whom, and how many remain uncommitted. They point to the argument that counting Superdelegates is an art, not a science. Hillary could go to the convention in Denver the last week of August, where the delegates actually vote, and count on their ultimate support. If she can somehow get enough delegates to switch to her side, or hold back support from Obama, she might make it through the first ballot without Obama securing the nomination. Then all delegates are free, and this is where the Clintons may see their opening and chance for victory.
While it seems that the Clintons have lost their magic and the fear and respect they used to have in the party, they just might be able to succeed. It would certainly come at the expense of any sort of party unity. But does anyone really believe that if Obama gets the nomination, Hillary will want him to win? If she loses, the party might be so split that it can’t possibly win the White House.
The Clintons say the process has been good for the Democrats because of all the voters registered, and all the enthusiasm generated. But is that true or just a rationalization for Hillary to stay in the race?
Despite getting the facts wrong and making unfounded predictions, the media love the ongoing campaign. The liberal media hate seeing the Democrats fighting, but they love the high ratings and constant coverage they are able to provide, as they hope to influence voters. On the night of the West Virginia vote, Chris Matthews told Terry McAuliffe, who earlier in the day had called Matthews the unofficial chairman of the Obama campaign, that he, as a reporter and political junkie, wants more than anything to see this race go down to midnight on the last night of the Denver convention. Yet, Matthews had said that morning, “I think most people…understand that the fight is over for the nomination.”
The media preference for either Democrat over McCain is unmistakable, although McCain has traditionally been a favorite of the liberal media because of his liberal stands on such issues as campaign finance reform, immigration, and global warming. For example, Dan Abrams, in his prime time show on MSNBC on Thursday night, practically begged the Democrats to have a ticket with Obama at the top, and Hillary as his vice president. “My fear is that the Obama supporters simply hate Hillary Clinton so much that she’s simply got no shot [of becoming his running mate].” This is the main fear that the liberal media have about the race.
Hillary was the liberal media’s early favorite when she was the presumed nominee. But as Obama gained strength, and the Clintons began using race and his links to the far-left to try to stop his momentum, his popularity grew in the media. Chris Matthews talked about how after being in the presence of an Obama speech, he “felt this thrill going up my leg,” and he compared Obama’s message to the New Testament. This is what passes for journalism these days. The rock star treatment was obvious for all to see. There is hardly a pretense of objectivity by any of the networks.
The Obama Chorus
In a column in Politico titled, “Obama’s Secret Weapon, The Media,” Jim VandeHei and John Harris argued that “Many journalists are not merely observers but participants in the Obama phenomenon.”
So will Hillary bow out soon, and gracefully, as Andrea Mitchell is reporting? Not likely. She has been dropping clues along the way. Back in February, she made it clear that she looks at the letter rather than the spirit of the pledged delegate rules, which is that even they don’t have to vote on the first or any ballot for whom their state’s primary or caucus sent them to Denver to vote for. So until the delegates have a chance to actually vote, they are just stating a temporary preference. That is how the Clintons are looking at this process.
The Democrats are reeling because they don’t know how this drama will play out. Their allies in the media, while the Democrats are getting way more coverage than the Republicans, continue attempting to prepare the country for attacks on the nominee, whoever it is, by the Republican Party and conservative groups. An ABC article pointed out after last month’s Pennsylvania primary, two-thirds of Democratic voters felt that Hillary had attacked Obama unfairly, and 50% said Obama had unfairly attacked her. This shouldn’t deter Republicans from going after either of them this fall.
There is a lot of drama left, and with the Democrats so badly divided, it is possible that McCain could win a big victory in November. That depends on him attracting the votes of disaffected Democrats, and McCain appears to be courting the left, especially with his support for global warming treaties and legislation. In his recent speech on the need for conservative judges, he defended his vote for Clinton’s nomination of ACLU general counsel Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court.
The Republican Party is also in turmoil but it hasn’t gotten as much coverage as the problems in the Democratic Party. About a quarter of Republicans in recent primaries have refused to vote for McCain, and Rep. Ron Paul, the most popular Republican presidential candidate on the college campuses, says he won’t endorse the Arizona senator for president. While Ralph Nader is threatening to siphon votes away from the Democratic nominee, third party candidates such as Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party and Bob Barr, the likely candidate of the Libertarian Party, could take some conservative votes away from McCain.
There is a lot of suspense and excitement on both sides as the media prepare for the campaign ahead.