“Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence — on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to ‘do the job from Day One.’ In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel…Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.” The Atlantic‘s Josh Green, who covered the dirt on the Patty Doyle firing earlier this year, tells the story of Sen. Clinton’s primary bid from the inside (thanks mainly to being the beneficiary of vindictive document dumps from across the campaign hierarchy.)
Among the many interesting revelations, Mark Penn is apparently an even bigger asshole than he seemed during the primaries. Regarding Sen. Obama: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050…his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values…Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.” Classy.
Update: Speak of the devil. While giving kudos to McCain for his Paris Hilton ad, Mark Penn emerges from his cave to extol the usefulness of negative advertising. “Picking a president is not just about the candidates’ strengths but also about how their weaknesses can manifest themselves. Imagine if, in 2000, Al Gore’s advertisements had hit George W. Bush hard over incompetence on foreign affairs and as a trigger-happy cowboy.“
“‘She’s no longer campaigning for president,’ said Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee. ‘She’s focused on her work in the Senate, campaigning for Senator Obama and other Democrats.’” With the Dems back on the same team, the Clinton campaign scrubs its website of anti-Obama material from the primary era. As such, this seems as good a time as any to definitively put to rest these Penn-inspired primary fictions as well:
So R.I.P., goofy primary reasoning. You won’t be missed.
“In the bunker there exists a different reality. In the bunker, Hillary is the winner: of the popular vote, of a series of big swing states, of the authentic American vote. In the bunker, Hillary is introduced by the indefatiguable Terry McAuliffe as ‘the next President of the United States!’ When asked about the reality outside the bunker — that Obama supporters were in a minor rage over Hillary’s speech — McAuliffe looked at me incredulously. ‘Tonight was Hillary’s night!’ he exclaimed. ‘We won tonight! We won in South Dakota! We keep winning!‘”
Sigh. Or, put another way via R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant: “I will hide and you will hide, and we shall hide together here. Underneath the bunkers in the row. I have water, I have rum. Wait for dawn and dawn shall come, Underneath the bunkers in the row.“
Also, on McAuliffe’s point about it being “Hillary’s night,” see Jeffrey Toobin on CNN yesterday, referring to “the deranged narcissism of the Clintons.” They really don’t make it easy to cut them a break.
Update: The endgame is now Saturday: “Clinton will host an event in Washington on Saturday ‘to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,’ according to Howard Wolfson, who did not explicitly state that Clinton is dropping out of the race. But other campaign officials said the event will coincide with her departure, despite her earlier reservations about stepping aside.” Well, better late than never.
Well, it’s sometimes seemed to have more endings than Return of the King. But, tonight, it looks like the primary season is finally, really, truly at an end, with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois our duly chosen Democratic nominee. In the days and weeks ahead, it’ll behoove all of us, however hard, to let the primary bygones be bygones and to help reunite the party against our real foe, John McCain and the GOP. But, before we let the healing begin, I do have one more word to say about the Clintons, who above all else this campaign season has proven the truth of the old adage: “Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them.“
Now, I’m not going to recite the full litany of grievances against the Clintons’ behavior of late one more time. I’d say that ground is already pretty well-covered in the election archives. But I will say this: It has become increasingly fashionable in the press and elsewhere to esteem Sen. Clinton — regardless of her other political transgressions — as gutsy, tenacious, a fighter. Say what you will about her methods, this line of thinking goes, she goes there. She does what needs to be done. In fact, argues otherwise discerning political observers such as friend and colleague David Greenberg, she is exactly the kind of fighter the Left has said they’ve been looking for. (Of course, she and her husband have been AWOL when it counted over the past seven years, but that’s neither here nor there in this view.)
Well, simply put, this is all hooey. Sen. Clinton’s behavior over the past six months and change has been exactly the wrong lesson for Democrats to draw from the politics of the last decade. I’ve said it here several times before, but, in a nutshell, here’s why:
You don’t wear the ring. You destroy the ring.
Or, in other words, the key to beating the Republicans is not by acting Republican. It’s by rising above their tendentious garbage and working to restore reason and sanity to our politics. At the very least, a Democratic nominee for president shouldn’t validate the base tactics of the GOP by wallowing in their wretchedness. For what shall it profit a woman, if she shall gain the whole world, and lose her own soul?
Nevertheless, seemingly blinded by ambition, Sen. Clinton very quickly chose the wrong path. (In the place of a Dumb Lord, we would have a Queen…) She embraced the Rove playbook and dabbled in Al Qaeda hysteria. She validated John McCain and threatened to obliterate Iran. She called her opponent elitist and derided the “elite opinion” of the reality-based community. She played nice with Limbaugh, Scaife, and FOX. She flirted dangerously with the race card and lauded hard-working whites. She, for all intent and purposes, became the Republican candidate in the Democratic primary. She, and her husband, became part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
To repeat something I said after Wisconsin in February, the night when Sen. Obama’s primary victory basically became mathematically inexorable: “If you’ll forgive the lapse into LotR metaphors, the treason of Saruman, once the noblest and wisest of our order, is almost subdued. The Battle for Middle-Earth is only beginning.” So, as we move forward after tonight, I’ll try as much as anyone to tone down the internecine fighting around here, and start focusing fire on our true opponents over on the Right. (That is provided, of course, that Sen. Clinton chooses to diminish, go into the West, and remain a Democrat.)
But let’s also draw the appropriate lesson from the Clinton candidacy of 2008. The Clinton era is over, and this general election is now a chance for we as Dems “to show our quality.” We are not Dubya-Rove Republicans, and adopting their scorched-earth idiocies in a “tenacious” attempt to get elected is most assuredly the road to political, civic, and spiritual ruin.
“‘I want to say also that this may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind,’ the former president told Clinton supporters in South Dakota, ABC and NBC reported on their news websites. ‘I thought I was out of politics, till Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president,’ he added at the start of his stump speech.” There’ve been rumors floating around about Sen. Clinton’s speech in New York tomorrow, but has Bill let the cat out of the bag? One can only hope.
Update: Sigh…A Clinton spokesperson categorically denies an imminent exit tomorrow. In related news, New York Magazine’s John Heilemann and The Atlantic‘s James Fallows ponder what Sen. Clinton is thinking these days. Heilemann: “[M]y response is simple: She wants to be president. Duh. And if it ain’t gonna happen this year, then her central objective is to make it as likely as possible in 2012.” Fallows: “The Clinton team doesn’t worry about hurting Obama’s prospects of winning in the fall, because they assess those prospects at zero. Always have…So by definition they can’t be making things worse. It is like sticking pins into a corpse — you’re not really hurting it any more. And if these efforts in fact make Obama’s victory less likely — well, then, reality will conform to their preexisting view.“
Update 2: Word this morning is Sen. Clinton will in fact concede (sort of) tonight. “The former first lady will stop short of formally suspending or ending her race in her speech in New York City…But for all intents and purposes, the two senior officials said, the campaign is over.” Update 3: McAuliffe says not so. Get it together over there, y’all.
Update 4: Well, for once McAuliffe was right — You can’t call that a concession. Sen. Clinton’s “un-concession” speech tonight in New York, delivered an hour after Sen. Obama had mathematically clinched the Democratic nomination, would’ve been stunning in its gracelessness, if it wasn’t so much in keeping with what we’ve seen all election season from her. Classy until the end.
After Sen. Clinton gets toxic and ridiculous over Michigan and Florida — In a clear attempt to poison the well (and fire up the smoke machine), she compared the DNC’s decision to adhere to the rules she herself agreed to (when it suited her) to Election 2000, Zimbabwe, and the civil rights movement — her aides, fundraisers, and husband try to foist Sen. Clinton as Obama’s veep. But Rural Votes’ Al Giordano says hold up: “The Field can now confirm, based on multiple sources, something that both campaigns publicly deny: that Senator Clinton has directly told Senator Obama that she wants to be his vice presidential nominee, and that Senator Obama politely but straightforwardly and irrevocably said ‘no.’ Obama is going to pick his own running mate based on his own criteria and vetting process.“
In the meantime, regarding delegates: Obama picked up two more Edwards delegates and supers Pilar Lujan (GU) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA) crossed paths switching (Lujan to Clinton, Cardoza to Obama.) Also for Obama since the last update: Rep. Jim Costa (CA), Rep. Joe Courtney (CT), and DNC members Scott Brennan (IA), Jenny Greenleaf (OR), and Wayne Dowdy (MS). (In the meantime, Clinton picked up 2 more UADs from Ohio and Massachusetts.) Thus, the most recent tally: Obama +7, Clinton +2. Sen. Obama is now 57 delegates away from the (current) magic number of 2025.
“Many answers fell into a handful of broad themes we’ve been hearing for months now. (She shouldn’t have run as an incumbent. She should have paid more attention to caucus states. She should have kept Bill chained in the basement at Whitehaven with a case of cheese curls and a stack of dirty movies.) Others had a distinct score-settling flavor…But whether personal or clinical, new or familiar, the critiques are all the more striking for having come directly from those neck-deep in the action. So, here it is, an elegy for Hillary ’08, written by some of those who have worked tirelessly to keep it alive.” Now that reality has finally set in, TNR’s Michelle Cottle gets residents of Hillaryland to ruminate on what went wrong. Among the more telling:
In related news, Sen. Obama picks up another super, Rep. Pete Stark of CA.
“Yet for all of her primary night celebrations in the populous states, exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind.” Are the media finally going after the Clinton camp’s last, sad buttress? In tomorrow’s NYT, Patrick Healy pushes back against the dubious Clinton claim that she’ll run better in the “big states” based on the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. “According to surveys of Pennsylvania voters leaving the polls on Tuesday, Mr. Obama would draw majorities of support from lower-income voters and less-educated ones — just as Mrs. Clinton would against Mr. McCain, even though those voters have favored her over Mr. Obama in the primaries. And national polls suggest Mr. Obama would also do slightly better among groups that have gravitated to Republicans in the past, like men, the more affluent and independents, while she would do slightly better among women.” In other words, when it comes to comparing primary and general election performance, we’re basically talking apples and oranges. (Just ask Al Gore.)
“After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as chief strategist of the Clinton campaign.” With Colombia-gate the straw that finally leveled the proverbial dromedary, Mark Penn is gone from Team Clinton. Better late than never, I suppose, but this would’ve been more helpful if done several months ago. And isn’t the captain supposed to go down with the ship?
Well, victory may have been a macrotrend that eluded Penn’s grasp. Still, if nothing else, we’ll always have his ridiculous post-mortem spin jobs. Of “Impressionable elites,” “insignificant states,” and useless primaries, at least one might be remembered someday as a 2008 campaign catch-phrase. Update: The Field also feels a Titanic motif.
“The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it.” Clinton consigliere and inveterate torturer of reason Mark Penn gets into trouble for playing both sides of a Colombian trade deal, is forced to apologize, and subsequently gets sacked by the nation in question. If only Sen. Clinton had followed Colombia’s example months ago, she might still have a shot at the presidency right now.
In related news, Al Giordano of Rural Votes explains why Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is rooting against Obama, and why that speaks strongly in the Illinois Senator’s favor. “The Uribe regime, after all, continues a chummy friendship with Bill Clinton, granting him the government’s ‘Colombia Is Passion’ Award last June. That, during the same 2007 spring when former vice president Al Gore cancelled his appearance at a Miami environmental conference because he did not want to share a podium with Uribe, the hemisphere’s poster boy for state-sponsored terrorism, narco-trafficking, and assassinations of opposition political, labor and social movement leaders.“
“Contrary to the gullible media’s belief that ‘time’ is a ‘powerful ally’ on Clinton’s side, in fact, Clinton’s only ally is uncertainty. The minute it becomes clear what will happen with Michigan and Florida — re-vote them, refuse to seat them, or split them 50-50 or with half-votes, as some have proposed — is the minute that Clinton’s last ‘path to the nomination’ closes. The only way to keep spin alive is to keep uncertainty alive…Penn can claim that there is a path to the nomination, but under any possible actual resolution of the uncertainty, there is not.”
TAP’s Mark Schmitt explains Clinton’s FL/MI strategy: prolong the chaos. “[T]he specific resolution doesn’t matter, because whatever it is, it will introduce certainty and finiteness, and without the comfort of ambiguity, the Clinton spin-campaign cannot survive. The Clinton campaign began — unwisely — by spinning inevitability; it ends, equally unwisely, by spinning cosmic uncertainty. In between the two spin campaigns, they apparently forgot to give people enough of a positive reason to actually vote for Senator Clinton.“
Update: It’s out of this same desire to muddy the waters, says Al Giordano, that the Clinton camp is now trying to put the brake on the Texas caucus results: “Only by generating smokescreens can it obscure from everybody’s view that Clinton has ceased to advance in national convention delegates while party leaders – from the national to the local – continue to converge in a near-consensus that Obama is the nominee that has earned it, that the voters most support, and that they view as most able to defeat McCain in November.“
With a six-week lull between now and the next contest, during which I hope to spend more time focusing on Harold Ickes than on Harold Ickes (sorry, dissertation humor), now’s a good chance to buck Mark Penn and refocus on the macrotrends in the primary race right now:
For one, superdelegates are clearly trending towards Obama. “Among the 313 of 796 superdelegates who are members of Congress or governors, Clinton has commitments from 103 and Obama is backed by 96, according to lists supplied by the campaigns. Fifty-three of Obama’s endorsements have come since he won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, compared with 12 who have aligned with Clinton since then…[Since Ohio/Texas] the Illinois senator has won backing from nine superdelegates and Clinton one, according to the campaigns and interviews.” (Speaking of which, he picked up another one today in Wisconsin’s Melissa Schroeder. As you probably know, you can keep track of the supers over at DemConWatch.)
For another, whatever sound and fury Mark Penn tries to kick up about Pennsylvania and electability, it’s a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. In the most recent general election poll of the state, Obama still does better than Clinton against McCain there (although, thanks to all the recent negative press, McCain has moved ahead of both since this poll.) To his credit, Clinton supporter and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, off-message once again, today conceded Obama can take PA over McCain. (And in any case, as Michael Dukakis can tell you, past primary performance is often not a valid predictor of future outcomes.)
Otherwise, Obama is up in the daily trackers, although those tend to be volatile. Most importantly, obviously, Sen. Obama enjoys a sizable, if not insurmountable, lead in pledged delegates, votes, and states, so we’re in very good shape, despite what ever sad butchering of reality emanates from Camp Clinton these days. So keep your chin up, y’all. If you got money, donate. If you got time, phonebank, write your supers, and/or get the message out. Let’s press this thing home.
By the way, while looking for a good Penn-Microtrends link above, I found this NYT book review that begins with an anecdote about the TV show Numb3rs: “‘There’s no way the bad guys can win,’ my son assures me each time we watch the show together. ‘They can’t do the math, Dad.’” Truer words have never been spoken.
“If I’m not ready, how is it that you think I should be such a great vice president?’ Mr. Obama said. ‘Do you understand that?’” Sen. Barack Obama probes an obvious fault line in the Clintons’ kitchen-sink attack. “‘With all due respect, I’ve won twice as many states as Senator Clinton,’ Mr. Obama said, speaking over the applause of nearly 2,000 people who rose from their seats. ‘I’ve won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I don’t know how somebody who’s in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who’s in first place….I’m not running for vice president. I’m running for president of the United States of America.’” Well put. (See it here.)
For what it’s worth, Clinton goon Howard Wolfson tried to square the circle this morning with this gem: “We do not believe that Sen. Obama has passed the commander in chief test. But there is a long way between now and Denver.” Uh, that clearly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why does the Clinton campaign continue to assume that we’re all morons? It’s infuriating.
“I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president, but perhaps that theory will be tested.” A Starr is born? Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson makes the implicit explicit and directly likens Senator Obama to independent counsel and GOP bogeyman Ken Starr, suggesting that any criticism of the Clintons must be rooted in the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Well, Wolfson, I don’t know Ken Starr personally. But, as fate would have it, I wrote the book on Ken Starr. And, news flash, Barack Obama is no Ken Starr. Y’see, I did copious research for And the Horse He Rode In On, and I discovered while doing so that Ken Starr, despite his self-righteous persona, was pretty much your run-of-the-mill hypocritical scumbag of a party hack. Now that doesn’t really describe Sen. Obama very well, but, as it turns out, that is exemplary shorthand for one Howard Wolfson.
Exhibit A: What prompted Wolfson’s “Ken Starr” smear today? That would be the Obama campaign’s call to have Senator Clinton release her tax returns for the past seven years, something she’s continually refused to do despite the fact that it would take all of five minutes to accomplish and is considered relatively standard in political campaigns at any level, let alone a race for the presidency. Now, let’s flashback to 2000 for a sec: Then, Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson was running around with a guy in an Uncle Sam suit demanding that GOP Senate candidate Rick Lazio…wait for it, wait for it…release his tax returns.
Their hypocrisy knows no limits.
“All that matters tomorrow – and we might not know the answer until later in the week – is which campaign advanced in delegates and which campaign did not, and by how much. That Clinton spokesman Wolfson is saying here that the Texas Caucuses don’t matter is your clearest indication that he thinks they’re going to get shellacked at ‘em. He’s already spinning them into ‘doesn’t-matterland’ before they’re even held. That’s because it is precisely the caucus results that will advance Obama to a greater lead among pledged delegates nationwide than he has today.” As the election season builds to a fever pitch in Ohio and Texas, Clinton sends out more attack ads, and the Clinton campaign begins trying to move the goalposts all over again to stay in the race after tomorrow night, Rural Votes‘ Al Giordano puts things in perspective.
In the meantime, the polls — minus Zogby, who had Obama up 13 in California, and is thus someone I’m not putting much stock in at the moment — seem to suggest Clinton is pulling away in Ohio (although not by enough to really make a dent in the delegate situation.) Texas polls are more favorable to Obama, although at least one has Clinton pulling ahead there too. But, to be clear, despite these leads (which also don’t reflect the respective ground games), neither state shows anything like the margins Clinton needs to stay mathematically viable. Her campaign may continue wheezing and sputtering for several weeks yet, but — if these numbers hold up, even with Clinton wins — the race for all intent and purposes ends tomorrow…and not a moment too soon.
“With a week to go before climactic tests in Texas and Ohio, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign team has slipped into full recriminations mode. Looking backward, interviews with a cross-section of campaign aides and sympathetic outsiders suggest a team consumed with frustration and finger-pointing about the apparent failure of several recent tactical moves against Barack Obama. Looking forward, it is clear Clinton’s team has only a faint and highly improvisational strategy about what to do over the next seven days. Simply put, there is no secret weapon.” Politico’s Mike Allen and John F. Harris offer another dismal window into what looks to be the final days in Camp Clinton.
In related news, Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder — who, along with Politico’s Ben Smith and Salon’s Joan Walsh, has been one of the more obviously Clinton-leaning pundits in the paid blogosphere (nice work if you can get it) — pretty much gives up hope: “The ‘HRC can come back’ bandwagon is rolling through town, and I spent a long time yesterday contemplating whether to jump on board. But the platform on which her supporters stand right now seems more tenuous by the day…Advisers figure that a loss in Texas is as likely as a win in Ohio; a large number of staffers appear to be willing to quit en masse next Wednesday if there’s a split decision and Clinton gives notice that she intends to fight for another month.“
Update: Former Chief of Staff and long-time Clinton loyalist Leon Panetta gives his own post-mortem for the campaign, and puts the blame squarely on Mark Penn: “‘[Penn] is a political pollster from the past. I never considered him someone who would run a national campaign for the presidency,’ he said. He asserted that Mr. Penn ‘comes from an old school, like Karl Rove — it’s all about dividing people into smaller groups rather than taking the broader approach that was needed.’“
So, since Thursday night’s seemingly valedictory moment, when it seemed Sen. Clinton might withdraw from the presidential contest with dignity intact, we’ve witnessed the ridiculous “shame on you” farce, her grotesquely unbecoming (and unpresidential) spate of unhinged sarcasm, further railing against Obama’s foreign policy (in part by comparing him to Dubya), some really desperate whining about the press coverage, and — arguably a new low — her staff’s apparent attempt to get the “closet Muslim” smear machine up and running again with the already-infamous Somali gear pic. (Here’s a quick summary of recent events.) Update: One of the more egregious spins of the day: Combining the biased-press and Somali-photo tacks, a Clinton aide is quoted as saying, ““Wouldn’t we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were [Clinton]?” Uh, no, because there’s obviously no whispering campaign arguing that Sen. Clinton is secretly Muslim. Really, what kind of idiots do you take us for?
It can only make you wonder what the next eight days will bring, and how much lower the Clinton campaign can possibly sink. I understand that they’re desperate now (See also Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro all but begging supers to back HRC), but they’ve really gone beyond the pale. At this point, I’m less outraged than I am just disgusted by Sen. Clinton, Mark Penn, and co. The self-immolation of the Clinton legacy is almost complete, and any goodwill they might’ve once enjoyed in progressive circles is well past exhausted. Let’s just hope the trail of slime they leave on their path to the exit doesn’t prove fertile ground for the Republicans in the general.
Update: Sen. Obama personally responds to the Somali pic flap: “Everybody knows that whether it’s me or Senator Clinton, or Bill Clinton, that when you travel to other countries they ask you to try on traditional garb that you have been given as a gift. The notion that the Clinton campaign would be trying to circulate this as a negative on the same day that Senator Clinton was giving a speech about how we repair our relationships around the world is sad. We are going to try to stay focused on what will make a difference in our foreign policy, including bringing the war in Iraq to an honorable end.” He then proceeded to twist the knife: “The notion that they would try to use this to imply in some way that I’m foreign, I think is, you know, unfortunate…These are the kinds of political tricks and silliness you start seeing at the end of campaigns.”
Update 2: The NYT surveys “what one Clinton aide called a ‘kitchen sink’ fusillade against Mr. Obama,” while the WP’s Dana Milbank reports on the efforts of the increasingly combative and bizarre Clinton spin room: “They are in the last throes, if you will…there was no mistaking a certain flailing, a lashing-out, as two Clinton advisers sat down for a bacon-and-eggs session yesterday at the St. Regis Hotel…[They offered] a fascinating tour of an alternate universe.”
“Enough with the speeches and the big rallies, and then using tactics right out of Karl Rove’s playbook. This is wrong, and every Democrat should be outraged…So shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That’s what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let’s have a debate about your tactics.” What was that about feeling “absolutely honored” the other night? No doubt in an attempt to stem all the final days talk, Sen. Clinton goes ballistic on Barack Obama this afternoon, claiming he’s the one that has used Rovian tactics this primary cycle. (Watch the video for the full “Dean Scream” effect. I wonder what Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, fidgeting behind her, was thinking.) Sen. Obama responds here and here, and the Obama campaign’s official rebuttal is here.
Ok, I’m going to try to put this as delicately as I can: Sen. Clinton, shame the fuck on you. After all the low-down, reprehensible, and thoroughly scummy maneuvers we’ve seen from your campaign this primary cycle, no doubt courtesy of your $10 million bust Mark Penn, how dare you get before the public and act the aggrieved party here? I’ve compiled this list before, but let’s go over it again. In the past three months, Sen. Clinton and/or her campaign has:
And I’m sure I’ve missed a few things. So who’s “using tactics right out of Karl Rove’s playbook” again? Don’t you worry, Sen. Clinton, “every Democrat should be outraged, and they are: That’s arguably one of the main reasons you’ve lost eleven contests in a row. It seemed the Clinton campaign had seen the situation for what it was, and was content to fade away, with grace and dignity intact. Had they done so, I might’ve let bygones be bygones. But, once they start indulging in this sort of Hail Mary raging against the dying of the light, which will no doubt poison the well for an easy reconciliation once Clinton has conceded, all bets are off. Update: This well-made video helps put today’s rant in perspective, and with Pink Floyd to boot.
Update 2: She’s getting worse.
Update 3: A few hours before the final Ohio debate, Sen Clinton concedes she “got a little hot over the weekend in Cincinnati.” Presumably, this means that the campaign’s internal polling suggests it backfired massively.
In case you missed it, debate No. 19, held in Austin, TX, came and went this evening. (Transcript.) My quick take: Not all that much news made here, and, as a tie goes to the defender, that’s a win for Barack Obama.
The big question coming in tonight was whether, after losing eleven contests in a row, Sen. Clinton would go into relentless-attack-mode (as desired by Mark Penn) or instead try to reassert her positives and perhaps prepare for a dignified exit to the race (as advised by Mandy Grunwald.) Well, the answer turned out to be yes. The first forty-five minutes or so were civil, agreeable, and thoroughly stultifying, basically a duller continuation of the LA debate of three weeks ago. Then, in the middle going, Sen. Clinton began trying to score some points, for example, by (once again) calling Obama a plagiarist and saying the Senator represented “change you can xerox.” (That canned line backfired rather badly, and drew the only boos of the night. I hope this is because most people realize the plagiarism charge is absolutely moronic.)
For his part, Sen. Obama — looking ever more presidential, as is the frontrunner’s wont — took the high road, correctly calling such maneuvers part of the “silly season” of politics and keeping the conversation mostly about substantive differences, such, as, once again, the interminable mandate question. (He had a particularly good response to the “cult” charge: “The implication has been that the people who have been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional…The thinking is that somehow they’re being duped…and that eventually they’re going to see the reality of things. I think they perceive the reality of what’s going on in Washington very clearly.” Touche.)
The moment that’s getting a lot of the buzz right now is Sen. Clinton’s closing statement, which (Xerox alert!) borrowed heavily from both John Edwards and Bill Clinton in 1992. (I actually don’t care at all about that, but if you’re going to throw around spurious claims of plagiarism, you’d best be careful about that glass house.) More troublingly, in her close Sen. Clinton explicitly invoked her surprisingly game-changing Reverse Muskie back in New Hampshire. (She began this particular lip-quavering moment by asking herself the same goofy question she got in the diner: “How do you do it?”)
Now, I don’t want to claim Sen. Clinton is a fraud, even if she’s seemed considerably less than “absolutely honored to be here with Barack Obama” over the past three weeks of scurrilious charges and no concession speeches. If anything, I agree with CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, who was much less enthralled by the moment than that venerable Establishment Davos-boogier, David Gergen. I think she got genuinely choked up for exactly the same reasons as she did back in NH. With the writing on the wall for her candidacy, this was a valedictory moment of sorts. Fine, she’s earned it, and I applaud her for seemingly choosing, at least for a few moments, a graceful exit that will help bring the party back together. That being said, I wouldn’t get such a guilty twinge of Bernie Birnbaum-ish grandstanding about it all if she hadn’t explicitly invoked the diner tear, and/or if Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson hadn’t immediately try to tell us afterward that this was “the moment she retook the reins of this race and showed women and men why she is the best choice.” Um, no, not really.
“Hillary Clinton ended January with $7.6 million in debt – not including the $5 million personal loan she gave to her campaign in the run-up to the critical Super Tuesday elections, according to financial reports released Wednesday.” With the January FEC reports filed, Politico takes a look at the sinking fiscal ship that is the Clinton campaign. The key graphs: “According to the reports, Clinton raised about $20 million in January, including her loan. She spent nearly $29 million during the month. She reported a cash balance of $29 million. But more than $20 million of that is money dedicated to the general election. Her personal loan accounts for more than half of the remaining approximately $9 million, leaving just about $4 million in cash raised from donors. But even that money is illusionary when measured against the reported $7.6 million in debts.” So add that all up and you get: no money. (Hence, the fatcat 527.) But the silver lining for Sen. Clinton? At least she’s making interest on that loan.
Over at TNR, Christopher Orr emphasizes this finding from the piece: “More than $2 million of the red ink is owed to chief consultant and adviser, Mark Penn.” So that goes a long way toward explaining why he’s still employed over there these days, despite his obvious incompetence.
And a commenter in the same TNR thread teases out another key line buried in the article: “[T]he lengthy laundry list of IOUs also includes unpaid bills ranging from insurance coverage, phone banking, printing and catering at events in Iowa, New Hampshire and California.” Wait a tic: Sen. Clinton, she of the much-touted mandate, is now ducking the insurance bills? Hmm…maybe affordability is the real problem after all.
Update: Politico‘s Kenneth Vogel has more on where the money went, including $10 million to Mark Penn and $1300 to Dunkin Donuts.
Update 2: The NYT piles on the terrible financing issue: “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s latest campaign finance report, published Wednesday night, appeared even to her most stalwart supporters and donors to be a road map of her political and management failings…’We didn’t raise all of this money to keep paying consultants who have pursued basically the wrong strategy for a year now,’ said a prominent New York donor. ‘So much about her campaign needs to change — but it may be too late.‘”
More signs of post-Feb. 5 incompetence from the Clinton camp. Just as they only recently “discovered” the rules in Texas, they somehow didn’t manage to file a full slate of delegates in Pennsylvania, despite having the backing of the state’s Democratic machine and despite Clinton supporter Gov. Ed Rendell giving the campaign an extension to do so. “It appears Clinton came up 10 or 11 candidates short across a number of congressional districts, including two in Philadelphia. That’s close to 10 percent of the 103 delegates to be decided by voters. It appears the shortage would’ve been double that if Rendell hadn’t extended last week’s candidate filing deadline by a day and a half, ostensibly due to bad weather.”
“‘Superdelegates are not second-class delegates,’ says Joel Ferguson, who will be a superdelegate if Michigan is seated. ‘The real second-class delegates are the delegates that are picked in red-state caucuses that are never going to vote Democratic.‘” More bad news for non-Clinton-voting states: You’re not only insignificant to Mark Penn, a Clinton campaign co-chair thinks you’re second-class. Also, to the 2004 red-states of Ohio and definitely Texas, I’m afraid this pretty clearly includes you as well. Sorry, but, as always, please vote Democratic regardless.
Sigh…Flailing about like a drowning victim, the Clinton campaign tries to accuse Sen. Obama of plagiarism for echoing remarks by friend and Obama supporter Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts regarding the value of words. (Both quoted such examples as “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” “I have a dream,” and “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” as times when words did, in fact, matter.) I’m sorry, but this is somewhat ludicrous, particularly coming from the grift-happy Clinton camp. (In fact, when asked point blank if Sen. Clinton has been known to lift from others, her campaign demurred.) For Gov. Patrick’s part, he said: “Senator Obama and I are long-time friends and allies. We often share ideas about politics, policy and language. The argument in question, on the value of words in the public square, is one about which he and I have spoken frequently before. Given the recent attacks from Senator Clinton, I applaud him responding in just the way he did.“
Ok, for one, much political rhetoric is by its nature an amalgamation of soundbites and talking points from other places. (See also Clinton and “Yes, we can,” or John McCain’s “ready to lead.”) For another, it’s not as if Sen. Obama (or his speechwriters) lifted entire paragraphs from some other source. He — and Patrick — both cited the most well-known examples in our history of words making a difference. It’s an obvious and devastating riposte to Clinton’s idiotic assertion that rhetoric is worthless. Could he have snuck Deval Patrick’s name in there? Well, I suppose so (as does Obama), but, really, this is pretty standard stuff in the political world. (And, before we consign ourselves to a political rhetoric characterized by interminable footnotes, let’s not forget: 95% of the time every word out of any candidate’s mouth — including Clinton’s — has been written by someone else.)
In any case, with this sad plagiarism riff, the Clinton campaign has shown once again that it will yield to nothing or noone in its race to the bottom. Please, go away, already. You’ve become an embarrassment to the Democratic party. Update: Former Carter speechwriter (and a friend and mentor of sorts) James Fallows calls shenanigans on the Clinton campaign.
“Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state’s unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended. What Clinton aides discovered is that in certain targeted districts, such as Democratic state Sen. Juan Hinojosa’s heavily Hispanic Senate district in the Rio Grande Valley, Clinton could win an overwhelming majority of votes but gain only a small edge in delegates.” The Clinton campaign “discovers” the long-standing Texas primary rules this month. I mean, why bother to learn the state rules before running for president (or before making Texas the last-ditch firewall)? As a TPM commenter deadpanned, Sen. Clinton must have just presumed she’d be greeted as a liberator.
What are they paying Mark Penn $4.3 million for again? Did their Texas strategy encompass anything beyond kids in mariachi outfits? This is rank incompetence, and no way to run a presidential campaign…or a country.
As the Clinton campaign begins pulling out all the stops in Wisconsin, Mark Penn, he of the “impressionable elites” and “insignificant states,” offers up another doozy: “Winning Democratic primaries is not a qualification or a sign of who can win the general election. If it were, every nominee would win because every nominee wins Democratic primaries.” So…winning primaries is not a good way to pick a candidate now. Can we still get Mike Gravel as our standard-bearer, then?
For his part, Clinton adviser and superdelegate Harold Ickes (son of the prominent progressive and New Dealer) at least conceded the importance of winning, although he too is putting his faith on a bailout by the supers (and/or a successful joint pincer movement with McCain.) According to him, the campaign will go until June, whereupon supers will flock to Clinton. “‘At or about – certainly, shortly after – the seventh of June, Hillary’s going to nail down this nomination,’ Ickes said. ‘She’s going to have a majority of the delegates.’” Sorry, not bloody likely. (About that June 7 match-up, tho, Sen. Obama recently picked up the endorsement of Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila, so even that final Clinton firewall looks to be suffering from a few cracks.)
It’s sad to have to put aside the Valentine’s Day cheer so soon after midnight, but there’s no other way to put it: The Clinton campaign have lost their damn fool minds. At first, all seemed well. In an article by NYT‘s Adam Nagourney, Clinton officials reiterated what Howard Fineman reported last night: that the Clinton campaign basically admitted they wouldn’t match Sen. Obama’s pledged delegate total. “Mrs. Clinton’s advisers acknowledged that it would be difficult for her to catch up in the race for pledged delegates even if she succeeded in winning Ohio and Texas in three weeks and Pennsylvania in April. They said the Democratic Party’s rules, which award delegates relatively evenly among the candidates based on the proportion of the vote they receive, would require her to win by huge margins in those states to match Mr. Obama in delegates won through voting.” This is true, and it’s the crux of their dilemma. Their last hope lies in racking up massive and decisive wins in Ohio and Texas, which is highly unlikely but worth the old college try. But, here’s the warning sign: “With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton’s count.“
Sure enough, they have. According to the Boston Globe, forget Ohio and Texas: The Clinton campaign has said it will not concede the race, even if it is clear they’ve lost the delegate count on June 7 (Puerto Rico). “Clinton will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary, said Clinton’s communications director, Howard Wolfson.” Never give up, never surrender! So, in effect, they’re saying they’ll risk an ugly and suicidal party schism, in the vain hope that the superdelegates don’t decide to renounce them en masse once they come in second, which they’re now basically admitting they will. And how are they going to convince the supers to back their play? Enter campaign strategist Mark Penn: “Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn’t won any of the significant states — outside of Illinois? That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.“
So…sorry you had to hear it this way, but Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, the Virgin Islands, and Washington: you are not significant. Or at least according to the Clinton campaign. But please do vote Democratic in November.
As I said above, I never expected the Clinton campaign to make any drastic decisions until after March 4. I mean, I know they themselves aren’t big on the audacity of hope, but you never know: They might well be able to pull out the huge margins they need in both Ohio and Texas to stay mathematically viable. Stranger things have happened, some in this very election, and after the New Hampshire comeback, I’m not going to count them out until those returns come in. But, right now, they’re flat-out embarrassing themselves. [Globe and MSNBC links via TPM.]
Update: The Prospect‘s Ezra Klein is not happy: “If Hillary Clinton does not win delegates out of a majority of contested primaries and caucuses, her aides are willing to rip the party apart to secure the nomination, to cheat in a way that will rend the Democratic coalition and probably destroy Clinton’s chances in the general election…This demonstrates not only a gross ruthlessness on the part of Clinton’s campaign, but an astonishingly cavalier attitude towards the preservation of the progressive coalition. To be willing to blithely rip it to shreds in order to wrest a nomination that’s not been fairly earned is not only low, but a demonstration of deeply pernicious priorities.“
How will the Clinton campaign rationalize the losses over the weekend? It’s not pretty. Said Senator Clinton: “‘These are caucus states by and large, or in the case of Louisiana, you know, a very strong and very proud African-American electorate, which I totally respect and understand.’ Noting that ‘my husband never did well in caucus states either,’ Clinton argued that caucuses are ‘primarily dominated by activists” and that “they don’t represent the electorate, we know that.‘” So, “activists” and African-Americans, not “real” Dems. Got it. As for Bill Clinton’s take: “‘Her campaign’s broad appeal is largely to people who need a president,’ Clinton told an audience in Silver Spring’s Leisure World retirement community tonight. ‘Very often they are working and busy and dont go to these caucuses.’” Sure. I guess holding them on a weekend probably didn’t help either. As a commenter at TNR wryly characterized the spin last night: “Clearly there’s been a massive flood of Latte sipping African American knowledge workers into rural Maine.“
Mind you, I’ve said before that caucuses may not be the best way to organize a statewide election. But, given both the breadth and depth of Obama’s leads in caucus states all across the country, Sen. Clinton’s continued losses speak less to the inherent problems of caucusing than to the inherent problems of the Clinton campaign. As I said yesterday, if her campaign is any indication of the managerial talent we can expect from a Clinton presidency, the prognosis is not good. To wit, it’s poorly managed, woefully disorganized, suffers from a lack of “activist” enthusiasm, and — like a certain Republican administration I could mention — clearly had no Plan B. (Also, apparently, Sen. Clinton wasn’t apprised of her dismal funding situation until after Iowa. Another managerial coup.)
“I regret the way that this matter has been used,’ Clinton told reporters. ‘The comments about it are baseless and divisive. I was personally offended at the approach taken that was not only misleading but unnecessarily hurtful.’” When asked about Congressman Jim Clyburn’s dissatisfaction with her recent remarks on the civil rights movement, Sen. Hillary Clinton suggests she‘s the aggrieved party here, and, worse, that a vast Obama conspiracy is to blame for people — including Clyburn — finding fault with her remarks. “She suggested reporters consider the sources of the criticism, much of which has come from the black community. ‘I think it clearly came from Senator Obama’s campaign and I don’t think it’s the kind of debate we should be having in our campaign,’ she said.” Wow. I mean, I’m running out of ways to be surprised here. Isn’t this the exact same cynical and misleading strategy that President Clinton just accused Senator Obama of running? This is just getting depressing.
Update: On Meet the Press, Sen. Hillary Clinton continues the “Vast Obama Conspiracy” defense. “‘This is, you know, a, a — an unfortunate story line that the Obama campaign has pushed very successfully,’ she said. ‘They’ve been putting out talking points. They’ve been making this — they’ve been telling people, in a very selective way, what the facts are.” Uh, swift-boat much? What evidence do you have that the Obama team is responsible for people finding your recent actions dismaying? And why not just say your words could be misconstrued, apologize, and move on? Instead, we get: “Clearly, we know from media reports that the Obama campaign is deliberately distorting this.” What media reports? (The closest I could find was this, when an Obama spokesman suggested there might be a “pattern” here. Well, given Billy Shaheen, mandatory minimums, “imaginary hip black friend,” and such readily misconstruable remarks as “fairy tale” and “kid,” and the LBJ “It takes a president” history lesson, I can see why one might think so. But I see little other evidence that the Obama campaign is responsible for the general dismay surrounding the Clintons right now. These people have no sense of shame.
Update 2: Obama’s response: “‘The notion that this is our doing is ludicrous.” Meanwhile, the Clinton people point to this memo, drawn up by Amaya Smith, Obama’s press secretary in SC but not released to the press. Sigh…this may well be the dumb mistake the Clintons have been baiting the Obama team to make. Still, having read through the memo, I’m not seeing any “deliberate distortions” of the Clintons’ behavior, so much as a litany of the unfortunate incidents that have been emanating from the Clinton camp. (I hadn’t heard the Trippi v. Penn “cocaine” one. Cute.) Plus, the memo seems to follow the concerned responses of leaders such as Jim Clyburn and Donna Brazile — in fact, that’s the newspeg. Hard to say that it created them.
Update 3: Hillary Clinton is defended by BET’s Robert Johnson, who also sees fit to bring up the drug spectre again. “‘As an African American, I’m frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won’t say what he was doing but he said it in his book’…Clinton’s campaign says Johnson was not referring to Obama’s past drug use. Meanwhile, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, another African-American supporter of Clinton, said of the comments, ‘Sometimes people say things that aren’t sanctioned…I can’t speak for Bob.’“
Update 4: Johnson — previously a stalwart foe of the estate tax, by the way — also went on to compare Obama to Sidney Poitier, and not in a good way. Yep, a classy day all around for Team Clinton. I have to think this’ll backfire.
Update 5: Johnson’s official response to his earlier comment: “Johnson said it would be ‘simply irresponsible and incorrect’ to read his words that way. ‘My comments today were referring to Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else.’” Now, read back into the original quote, that clearly doesn’t make a lick of sense. But who’s got his back? Why, Bill Clinton: “I think we have to take him at his word.” It’s not a lie if you believe it, right, Mr. President?
When in doubt, disenfranchise. You may have heard Senator Clinton say this the other day about caucuses: “‘You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard,’ Clinton (D-N.Y.) said. ‘That is troubling to me. You know, in a situation of a caucus, people who work during that time — they’re disenfranchised.” (She said something similar after losing Iowa.) Well, it turns out now her team is trying to speed along the disenfranchising: A Clinton-supporting teachers’ union is now attempting to prevent caucusing on the Las Vegas strip, so as to undercut the ability of culinary workers (whose union backed Obama) to caucus on Jan. 19. “The complaint, with the state teachers union and some party activists as plaintiffs, came as Obama accepted the endorsement of the Culinary Union.” As — not before. When the Culinary Union endorsement was up for grabs, nary a peep was heard from the Clinton folk. (By way of The Daily Dish.)
Update: The WP has more: “The state party quickly dismissed the lawsuit. Going back to last spring, every presidential campaign was involved in setting up the unusual casino caucus sites while state party officials and the Democratic National Committee ironed out the details. ‘This is a fair, legal and proper way to choose delegates under established law and legal precedent that has been reviewed by attorneys….The time for comment or complaint has passed,’ the party said in a statement.” [My emphasis.]
“For a candidate sometimes accused of arrogance, Clinton did little in the immediate aftermath of the Iowa caucuses to suggest that she held herself responsible for the defeat or intended to change her message to attract voters in other states. Instead she and her advisers blamed the electorate and the process, saying the Iowa system is flawed… At the same time, her campaign advisers made some arguments that seemed to defy logic: They contended that, although the Iowa system is too exclusive, she also lost because so many people participated in the process.”
As a candidate who’s been cultivating her inevitability as the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton’s third place finish last night was obviously a huge setback for her (and for her main campaign strategist, Mark Penn.) Still, Senator Clinton is the well-financed, well-organized establishment candidate, and she enjoys both huge name recognition and a Weapon X in her popular, crowd-galvanizing husband. So, how does the Clinton camp propose to turn things around in four days? Let’s take a look.
As such, here’s Clinton’s new approach: “Just seconds into her speech Friday morning, Clinton was declaring herself the candidate for America’s youth. Clinton got off her plane in New Hampshire and declared: ‘This is especially about all of the young people in New Hampshire who need a president who won’t just call for change, or a president who won’t just demand change, but a president who will produce change, just like I’ve been doing for 35 years.’ ‘I’m running for president to reclaim the future — the future for all of us, of all ages, but particularly for young Americans,” she said a few seconds later.‘”
Update: Oops, look like I missed a particularly virulent one.
If that “my goodness, whatever was Obama up to?” stunt (basically Choose Your Own Scandal redux) didn’t already reek of desperation, the Clinton camp’s Hail Mary fumbling with drug hysteria push-buttons gets even worse. Also from the ABC article above: “Aiming at Obama’s signature rhetoric, Clinton said what America needs is someone who can ‘actually deliver change’ not ‘false hopes.’ While the senator was vague, her campaign pointed out to ABC News examples of Obama’s liberal positions. In 2004, Obama said he would vote to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes. ‘Mandatory minimums take too much discretion away from judges,’ Obama said in an NAACP debate.“
That they do — In fact the Supreme Court just agreed as much in a 7-2 decision, one which included those crazy liberals John Roberts and Antonin Scalia in the majority. So, what’s Clinton’s point, and what on earth does Obama’s stance on mandatory minimums have do with “change” and “false hopes” anyway? Put plainly, they seem to be saying, “Obama isn’t only a former drug user, he’s soft on them too.” Willie Horton much, Senator Clinton? Coming from Shaheen a month ago, it was bad enough. Coming from the candidate herself, this is a new low.
At any rate, it should be noted that while the Granite State terrain ostensibly favors Obama, and, as noted below, the Iowa bounce is real, Clinton is currently up six in NH, according to today’s (pre-Iowa) Zogby poll: 32% to Obama’s 26% (to Edwards’ 20%). [Update 2: Obama up 10?(!)] So keep an eye out for the debate on Saturday night. Obama still has some ground to make up, and Clinton isn’t going anywhere just yet. Despite last night’s impressive win, the Obama team can’t just rest on the laurels of Iowa to keep moving through New Hampshire. Let’s do it again.