Monday, June 02, 2008

Clinton returns to the 'Delegate Switch' tactic

Everything old is new again for the Clinton campaign. She has begun recycling rationales for continuing her candidacy. For the last several weeks, she has been pushing the "popular vote" rationale. Now, as reported by the Washington Wire blog at, she has returned to the "delegate switch" argument from a few months ago.

“One thing about superdelegates is they can change their minds,” Clinton told a gaggle of reporters in the aisle of the plane. “With us in the front of the cabin is a superdelegate who went from me to Sen. Obama and now is back with me, in the course of, you know, a matter of weeks.” A campaign spokeswoman later informed the cabin that the superdelegate she was referring to is Kevin Rodriguez, a DNC member from the Virgin Islands, who was accompanying her on the flight from San Juan. The campaign had previously announced his support. “I think it’s only now that we’re finishing these contests that people are going to actually reflect on who is our stronger candidate. And I believe I am. And I’m going to make that case,” Clinton said.

Clinton also indicated that she considers the DNC’s new number denoting the finish line of this historic primary contest, 2,118, as contingent on her decision on appealing the Saturday ruling of the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee decision on Michigan. The campaign reserved the right to do so following the ruling.

“We’re going to decide how to proceed and depending on what the outcome of that decision is we’ll either mount a challenge or not. But obviously it would have an impact on the number of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination,” she said.
This "superdelegates can change their minds" argument is a hyperfactual rationalization being employed to justify an existing plan. That plan is and always has been for Clinton to fight for the nomination all the way to the convention.

It is a fact that superdelegates can "change their minds." They do not actually cast their ballots for one candidate over another until the convention.

But it is also a fact no delegates will have an opportunity to cast their ballots prior to the convention. And even the elected, or "pledged" delegates are under no legal obligation to choose one candidate over another. Delegates from Illinois are just as free to vote for Clinton at the convention as delegates from California are free to vote for Barack Obama. Technically speaking, nobody has won the nomination until such time as the ballots are cast at the convention in August, and one of them acquires the requisite number.

The dirty little secret of the nominating contests is that the voters do not actually chose the nominee. They choose representatives, delegates, who are under no legal obligation to express the will of the majority of voters in their respective states. They can cast their ballots at the convention any way they choose. One delegate at the 1996 Republican National Convention voted to nominate Robert Bork, who wasn't even a candidate.

So it is literally true that nothing is set in stone until the ballots are cast at the convention.

But that is not a winning argument for a candidate who trails her opponent by every measure - contests, delegates, and yes, votes. Or, at least, it shouldn't be.

Hillary Clinton's only path to the nomination is to convince enough delegates, super or pledged, to overturn the will of the majority of Democratic Party primary voters. That's it. The only competitive venue left to her is the smoke-filled room. By every other metric, she lost.

Under party rules, if she can negotiate a back-room deal for the nomination, it is hers. But at what cost? Would Clinton really want to enter the general election having seized the nomination from the candidate who beat her at the ballot box? Does she imagine she could beat John McCain with that kind of political and moral baggage?

I certainly hope not, but if she does not suspend her campaign after Tuesday, we'll know what her plan is. We'll know what it has been along.

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