Three weeks out from the Democratic convention and Hillary Clinton is slowly emerging from her self-imposed summer hibernation to haunt the party with the prospect that she will at the very least, horn in on some of the presumptive nominee’s glory just by her presence in Denver.
Was her low profile the result of her licking the psychic wounds of being defeated for the nomination? Previous losers have indicated as much and we have no reason to doubt that Clinton was using the time between the end of the primaries and just recently to decompress from the brutal campaign and reflect on the future.
But there are some who believe she still harbors hopes that she can stampede the convention and steal the nomination from Obama right from under his nose. It certainly would make for dramatic TV if such a scenario were to unfold but frankly, the idea that Hillary Clinton would cleave the Democratic party in two, alienate millions of African American voters, destroy her position in the party, and possibly cause the loss of the election – all on national TV - is a fantasy. The party pros – Superdelegates – simply will not allow that to happen given the probable fallout for down ticket races. The pros may have serious doubts about Obama at this late stage but getting rid of him won’t solve any problems and will create even bigger ones.
The party – for better or worse – is stuck with Barack Obama as its nominee and they will win or lose with him in November – period.
This reality hasn’t stopped some bitter end Hillary supporters from dreaming there is still a chance to sway the Superdelegates, trying to convince them to abstain from voting on the first ballot in order to deny Obama a quick victory. This is the fantasy imagined by the cheeky group of Democrats who have coalesced under the banner PUMA (“Party Unity My Ass”). Every rumor of a wavering Superdelegate or hint that there are doubts among convention goers is latched on to with the fervor of the true believer, no matter how improbable or false the information might be.
However, facts are facts. Obama and the Democratic establishment have taken ironclad control of the proceedings in Denver and will do everything in their power to make sure that on the surface at least, the party is united behind the nominee. Any attempted coup or attempted coup will be brutally suppressed.
But even though these Hillaryites don’t have a ghost of a chance in overturning the nomination of Obama, that doesn’t mean they can’t cause loads of trouble for the nominee in Denver – especially if they get anywhere near a microphone. And I will guarantee you that every network and reporter covering the Democratic Convention in Denver will actively seek out the grumblers, the apostates, the bitter enders for Hillary, and any other delegates who will offer a dramatic counterpoint to the lovefest offered up by the Obama campaign. The nominee may control the floor. But he and his people have absolutely no say in what goes out over the airwaves. And since conventions aren’t “news” in the true sense of the word but rather “entertainment,” networks will seek out controversy in order to offer “drama” to the viewer.
(Don’t worry, Democrats. They will do the same thing at the GOP Convention a few days later as they seek out disappointed and disenchanted conservatives to speak against McCain.)
Given this dynamic – something the Obama camp is fully aware – what role can Hillary Clinton play in this soap opera? The two sides are currently engaged in a delicate dance of negotiations on just what the former First Lady can do to help the party without overshadowing the entire event:
The New York Daily News reported Friday that Clinton has decided not to submit a signed request to the DNC to have her name put into nomination; party rules require such a move for a candidate to be voted on.
But Clinton aides continue to say publicly that such details are still being discussed in consultations among the Clinton camp, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
“No decisions have been made,” Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.
“Sen. Clinton is 100 percent committed to helping Barack Obama become the next president of the United States,” Strand added. “She is very appreciative of the continued commitment of her supporters and understands there are passionate feelings around the convention. While no decisions have been made at this time, they will be made collaboratively with Sen. Clinton and her staff, the DNC and Sen. Obama’s campaign and released at the appropriate time.”
Even many Clinton supporters think that offering her name up for the nomination is a bad idea. Lanny Davis thinks it would be “idiotic” and only serve to remind voters of the deep divisions in the party. But the fact that we are three weeks out and those divisions show little sign of healing, gives Hillary an enormous amount of leverage. Talk now is of making her the Keynote Speaker – a plum that might go a long way toward at least healing some of the rifts between the two camps.
The Obama campaign’s “Operation United Party” has had mixed success since the primaries ended in June. The realists like Taylor Marsh and a few other prominent netroots activists have gotten aboard, offering their full support to the presumptive nominee. But there is still stubborn resistance from many who are holding a grudge against Obama and his people. This feeling of resentment extends from the top of the Democratic party down to the base. Here’s Clinton at a recent fundraiser:
“For so many of my supporters, just like so many of Barack’s supporters, this was a first-time investment of heart and soul and money and effort and sleepless nights and miles of travel,” Clinton said. “You just don’t turn it off like that.”
Whenever she has appeared in public in the last fortnight – appearances notable for their low key, almost private nature – Hillary Clinton has gotten huge applause whenever she alludes to the loyalty of her supporters and how difficult it is to transfer those feelings to another candidate. At this same fundraiser, she got a loud ovation when she hinted that she wouldn’t mind if her name was placed in nomination but she would not actively seek it.
This puts the Obama camp in a huge bind. The convention is supposed to be about him, about his achievements. Placing Clinton’s name in nomination and then allowing her delegates to vote for her would distract from the narrative the campaign is trying to construct for the TV audience. Not doing so, however, might instigate a backlash against him that would prove just as embarrassing.
Obama can’t hide Hillary any more than he can try and make her glory seeking husband disappear. Here’s a description of an interview with Bill Clinton that is important for what he didn’t say as much as it was for the tepid, niggardly endorsement he gave the nominee:
Bill Clinton’s resentment came through in an interview with ABC News during his recent trip to Africa. Asked what regrets he might have about his role in his wife’s campaign, he bristled and then shot back, “I am not a racist. I never made a racist comment.” He struggled to render a positive comment about Obama’s qualifications for his old job. “You could argue that nobody is ever ready to be President,” Clinton said. “You could argue that even if you’ve been Vice President for eight years, that no one can ever be fully ready for the pressures of the office.” Pressed again, he responded with an endorsement that could hardly have been a weaker cup of tea: “I never said he wasn’t qualified. The Constitution sets qualification for the President. And then the people decide who they think would be the better President. I think we have two choices. I think he should win, and I think he will win.”
Not exactly a clarion call to storm the battlements for Obama that’s for sure.
With the press eager to jump on every sign of disunity, with a former candidate whose supporters think she deserves her moment in the sun, with a former president probably secretly wishing that he loses in November, and with his poll numbers stagnating or dropping, Barack Obama faces the greatest challenge to his leadership of the party and his chances for victory in November in Denver three weeks from now.
How he handles these problems will no doubt affect the decision of the American people when they go to the polls in November.