Wednesday, April 30, 2008

GOP Going After Obama, Not Clinton

There are at least two ways to interpret this: GOP gives Clinton the silent treatment.
Hillary Clinton’s decisive Pennsylvania primary win last week may have reinvigorated her campaign, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to the Republican party.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has purchased $500,000 in anti-Barack Obama ads for use in two upcoming special House elections. The Republican National Committee is flooding reporters with anti-Obama emails. Presumptive nominee John McCain and GOP surrogates have seized on new remarks by Obama’s controversial former pastor.

From top to bottom, from McCain down to the youthful campaign and party staffers who work nearly around the clock to get him elected, the working assumption seems to be that the Democratic contest is over and Obama has won.

Even when Clinton attacks McCain, President Bush or GOP policies, the response is either outright silence or snarky, dismissive ridicule about a failed campaign barely relevant enough to merit a response.
One is that the GOP would rather face Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama in the general election (the Rush Limbaugh tactic), and are thus helping Clinton defeat Obama in the primary.

The other interpretation is that the GOP fully understands that the Democratic primary race is over, Obama has won, and we're now de facto in the general election campaign, if not de jure.

If you're a Clinton supporter, you have to spin this into all sorts of contortions for it to reflect well on your candidate. Either she is the GOP's bet on the weaker of the two Democratic candidates or she has already lost. If there's anything the GOP does well, it is campaign. They're absolutely ruthless, but they're also usually quite savvy, if one can put on ethical blinders and consider campaigning in purely ends-justify-the-means political terms. I'd say that they know better the reality of the situation than the Democrats themselves apparently do.

In the name of parsimonious interpretation - or Ockham's Razor, if you prefer - rather than engaging in Rovian up-is-downism, there's really one conclusion to draw, one that I think was clear over a month ago: Obama has won the Democratic primary. Now, the option is either to damage his chances further or to save face for the party and for Clinton herself and withdraw gracefully. Clinton supporters seem to have chosen the former. Even the GOP knows better.

p.s. C'mon superdelegates: "Superdelegates to blame for enabling destructive campaign"


Anonymous said...

Prior to Clinton, it was unheard of for the media to demand a candidate in Clinton's position during a primary quit. See Media Matters, here.

She's being held to a double standard.

Rodger A. Payne said...

Bloggers like Helmut really aren't part of "the media" as that term is used to describe historical reactions to long campaigns.

The real oddity of media coverage in this campaign is that it is treating this race as if the voting results are still up in the air. Clinton has essentially no chance of ending up with more pledged delegates than Obama. We've now had 43 state primaries and caucuses and the remaining delegates will be split proportionally.

Obama has won the contest among voters.

Helmut is correct in saying that the uncertainty here is caused by the nearly 300 uncommitted superdelegates. If they all declared their allegiance, we'd soon know with near certainty the name of the Democratic nominee.

HRC has been losing her lead among superdelegate voters steadily for the past 6 or 8 weeks. On February 3, her lead was nearly 100; it is now down to about 20.

Go ahead, make a best-case assumption for HRC about remaining elected delegates. Figure she wins them 224-184. That presumes Obama states go 50-50 and HRC states go 60-40. Give her Indiana by 12 points and Puerto Rico by 2 to 1.

If Obama gets about 37% of the remaining superdelegates, he's still going to be the nominee. He'll need fewer if HRC's (unlikely) best case scenario fails. If they split those remaining state delegates almost evenly (206-202 for HRC), then Obama only needs about 30% of the supers.

I think he's going to need no more than one-third of them.

helmut said...

Thanks, Rodger. That's precisely it. Clinton has a very limited case to be made, and one that's made outside of the set of primary rules that all candidates agree to abide by. She first has to shift those rules (Florida and Michigan), get the numbers closers, and then make the the more generic claim that she's the better candidate for the general election. Strategically, the only way she can do the latter is by harming the candidate who's already won on delegate math.

But the tradeoff is this: either we end up with a scenario in which Obama's candidacy is so damaged it makes sense to choose Hillary at the delegation (where the damage to Obama also comes with serious damage to the party and the process) or the damage isn't yet serious enough to Obama and we have a sort of primary coup d'etat. The latter would arguably be even more damaging to the party, as it would turn off vast numbers of Democrats from ever supporting the party again.

That is the tradeoff. Apart from mathematical considerations, it should, by any measure, mean that the primary election is over, period.

Lance Mannion said...

Third possibility. Those special elections were in Louisiana. The GOP thinks that Obama and his "radical" ties to Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers etc. will scare their yahoo base into coming out to vote even more than Hillary will. (Didn't work in Baton Rouge.)

I happen think Obama's the likely nominee too, but the voters haven't decided that yet. Not all of them. The party, and Obama, will survive until after Oregon.

helmut said...

Lance, that third possibility is basically a variation on the second one in terms of the general election. Maybe there's local/state politics in play here, but it certainly could have been done more efficiently without the various costs of starting at the national level.