The Rules of Clintonball

by Hunter of DailyKOS

Forget the spin: the race is where it is. Clinton won Pennsylvania. The overall delegate margin has barely budged, however, and it is now even more assured that there is no reasonable scenario where Clinton can pull out a primary win absent intervention by the superdelegates.

I was never a Clinton fan, in this campaign. I have previously stated my deep discomfort with the notion that the person most deserving of the Presidency of the United States just miraculously happens to be the person married to the last Democratic President of the United States; it smacks far too much of the usual intra-Washington narcissism, and carries the strong whiff of American monarchy, something already wafting through the air after the ridiculous rise of the Boy King. At the same time, however, there seems little value in debating whether Clinton should or should not leave the race. That is entirely up to Clinton, and any candidate with a mathematical chance -- even if slim -- of pulling out a win has every right to see the race through until that last fateful day. I don't buy the notion that the campaign is hurting the Democratic party: any election that generates this level of excitement among Democratic voters is hardly a bad thing.

What bothers me, however, is the increasingly insulting quality of the campaign and surrogate spin as each successive campaign day wears on. It is fine to celebrate a Pennsylvania win -- by all means, a victory is a victory, and a significant and hard-fought one at that -- but all I ask in politics is that the spinners of each camp try their best to not make it quite so obvious that they think the rest of us really are a spectacular new species of rubes, able to be led by the nose to whatever ridiculous and improbable conclusion would best benefit a particular camp.

Listening to Clinton campaign surrogates on television, before the PA votes ever started to trickle in, was truly painful. Suddenly one state was the only state that mattered. All those other states were merely prelude: if Clinton could eke out a victory in this state, trailing in the delegate count would no longer be significant, and it would be a brand new race, and Obama would be on the ropes, and Clinton would suddenly win a billion dollars, a pony, and the moon; attention must be paid. It is not enough for Obama to simply be winning the nomination according to the rules laid out in advance: no, he must win the "right" way, according to the Clinton campaign and surrogates, or it doesn't count. He has to win the "right" states. And he has to win primaries, not caucuses. And he has to "close the deal", shutting Clinton out of remaining wins entirely, or it proves something ominous (the fact that Clinton has not been able to "close the deal" against him, and is instead trailing him badly and irreparably, barring superdelegate do-over, somehow does not count against her own merits.) And he not only has to win the "popular vote", but he has to win that, too, the right way, which is to say by counting only certain states and not counting others. And he has to win small towns, not just big population centers, because winning big population centers is elitist. Except that if he wins small towns in the West and Midwest, that doesn't count, because it's more important to win the big population centers. And all of this somehow proves that Clinton is a better candidate against McCain than Obama is, even though the polls to date have consistently shown Obama is a better candidate against McCain than Clinton is.

Now, I'm all for surrogates talking up their candidate, assuming they don't insult my intelligence in the process. But with the ever-changing rules and subrules of Clintonball, my intelligence feels fairly insulted, at this point. There seems to be an ever-expanding list of rationales why the delegate counts in front of our faces don't actually matter, or don't actually exist, or are terribly misleading. There seems to be an ever-expanding list of supposedly devastating Obama faults, such as the supposed elitism of the black guy from Chicago (seriously?), and there is a cynical and mocking dismissal of political eloquence from a campaign that once counted the political eloquence of their former president as one of their greatest assets. People have muttered over the negative tone of the campaign of late: hell, go negative. It's about time the Democrats figured out how to competently go negative, even though so far they have only bothered to practice it against each other. More irritating is that the negative attacks presented are, well, stupid, and seem increasingly to be predicated on the notion that voters, the press, the pundits, and we political hangers-on are all idiots seeking to cling to the most shallow of accusations. The press and the pundits? OK, I'll give you that one. The rest of us, however, weren't born yesterday.

All the spin boils down to a simple truth: Clinton now has almost no chance of winning on the delegate count. Barring Obama getting eaten by a bear, it's not going to happen, so the Clinton campaign wants the superdelegates to overturn the primary and caucus results at the convention and appoint her the rightful winner, even though she is, at this point, clearly losing. That's going to be a tough sell, if all Clinton has to offer is one state's worth of "momentum" or the rather odd logic that, since Obama has supposedly not sufficiently proven his campaign viability by kicking her completely to the curb by now, the superdelegates should instead hitch their wagons to a candidate who has been proven to be less viable than him.

The problem is those arguments simply aren't credible. You can't spin away an insurmountable delegate disadvantage with declarations of mulligans or claims of an "electability" that hasn't been able to actually get you elected. And with the ongoing declarations of which states should and shouldn't count (Pennsylvania yes, North Carolina no, one half of Texas yes, one half of Texas no, etc.), Clinton surrogates are rapidly running out of states and people to dismiss or insult. It has been a very, very nasty habit of her campaign -- seemingly Mark Penn inspired, but expansively used by any number of surrogates.

If Clinton wants the superdelegates to overturn all the voting up until now, fine: she's got every right, according to the rules of the contest, to campaign for that. All I'm asking is for her surrogates to come up with rationales that aren't absurdly premised and/or dismissive of the electorate. Given that I can't think of any such non-absurd arguments, that may pose a problem.