March 31, 2008

The Clinton Myth

This is a very interesting story from entitled Story behind the story: The Clinton myth. The following is the article in its entirety:

One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.

In other words: The notion of the Democratic contest being a dramatic cliffhanger is a game of make-believe.

The real question is why so many people are playing. The answer has more to do with media psychology than with practical politics.

Journalists have become partners with the Clinton campaign in pretending that the contest is closer than it really is. Most coverage breathlessly portrays the race as a down-to-the-wire sprint between two well-matched candidates, one only slightly better situated than the other to win in August at the national convention in Denver.

One reason is fear of embarrassment. In its zeal to avoid predictive reporting of the sort that embarrassed journalists in New Hampshire, the media — including Politico — have tended to avoid zeroing in on the tough math Clinton faces.

Avoiding predictions based on polls even before voters cast their ballots is wise policy. But that's not the same as drawing sober and well-grounded conclusions about the current state of a race after millions of voters have registered their preferences.

The antidote to last winter's flawed predictions is not to promote a misleading narrative based on the desired but unlikely story line of one candidate.

There are other forces also working to preserve the notion of a contest that is still up for grabs.

One important, if subliminal, reason is self-interest. Reporters and editors love a close race — it’s more fun and it’s good for business.

The media are also enamored of the almost mystical ability of the Clintons to work their way out of tight jams, as they have done for 16 years at the national level. That explains why some reporters are inclined to believe the Clinton campaign when it talks about how she’s going to win on the third ballot at the Democratic National Convention in August.

That’s certainly possible — and, to be clear, we’d love to see the race last that long — but it’s folly to write about this as if it is likely.

It’s also hard to overstate the role the talented Clinton camp plays in shaping the campaign narrative, first by subtly lowering the bar for the performance necessary to remain in the race, and then by keeping the focus on Obama’s relationships with a political fixer and a controversial pastor in Illinois.


Turk 182 said...

Hobbes, I disagree with much of your premise. It's expected that the Clinton campaign would be doing all it can to spin its current predicatment in the most positive light possible in the hope that Hillary can pull this off. If the media buys into this, that's their fault, not the Clinton's. It's like blaming a good pr agency for getting coverage for their clients.

No, the real story here is that this generation of media types have waited their whole lives for a brokered convention and this is the closest they have ever come. The floor drama and the potential for several ballots is taylor-made for today's talking heads on cable news. They created Obama and now they are trying to create a historic convention battle.

Pete M said...

The Dems are really hurting themselves with this situation. The devisiveness generated by the Obama and Clinton camps is turning alot of people within the party off, and giving McCain a nice little head start heading into November.

Larry S said...

The bottom line is that this country is not ready for a black President. People will go to rallys and stomp for Obama, but what they do in the privacy of the voting booth is a very different story. I think the country is ready for a female President, but the country is not ready for Hillary. Her crying act a few months ago still sticks in my mind, reinforcing my perception that she is too weak to make the difficult decisions necessary to effectively run this country.

Fawn Leibowitz said...

Turk, you're right. Much of this is media driven, especially the idea of a convention that actually means something. I'm not much of a political historian, but I'd be very curious to know when the last time a relevant convention took place. I'm sure the media is already licking its collective chops at the spector of the convention. The hype, the drama, the backstabbing. Shakespeare couldn't have written a better script. CNN will have its highest ratings ever the night of the convention.

Anonymous said...


while I agree with you basic point that a long drawn out primary could absolutely hurt the Democratic nominee, I don't think it is because Democrats are being turned off. Looking at the data as evidence, Democratic registration and turn out has spike dsignificantly throughout this campaign.

I think what hurts the eventual nominee is the fact that McCain has all fo this time to define himself while the two Dems are battling it out.