The Price of Party Infighting

The two parties are more at war with themselves than with each other. Conservatives continue their rear-guard action again John McCain even as Mitt Romney bows to reality, ending his campaign and invoking the specter of a Democrat in the White House as a "surrender to terror." The voting patterns among Democrats reveal fractures that could spell trouble in the fall with women pitted against men, blacks against browns, and young against old. An image on one liberal Web site showed Red State women and Blue State women clubbing each other.

If anyone has reason to smile, it's McCain. The Democratic bloodletting will continue for months with the very real prospect that the race could end in a tie--an agony of indecision that would prolong the party's battle with itself as opposed to focusing on the real prize: winning in November. With Romney out of the race, conservatives will start discovering virtues about McCain they hadn't seen before. The desire to keep the White House and deny Bill Clinton a third term if that's what it comes to should keep the Republicans together.

Democrats were shocked to learn that Hillary Clinton's gold-plated campaign secretly borrowed money from the candidate herself to get through Super Tuesday. The revelation underscored her vulnerability against the grass-roots movement that Barack Obama has built, now that the costly race has been extended at least into March--when Ohio and Texas vote. Adding to the tab: Pennsylvania is shaping up as a showdown state on April 22.

Hillary's loan focused renewed attention on the Clintons' finances, both their personal bank account as well as the campaign's coffers. When her husband first ran for president in 1992, the couple didn't even own a house. Now they own two multimillion-dollar homes; Bill Clinton is known to command $350,000 a speech, and the web of contacts constructed during his post-presidency have proved lucrative while posing potential conflicts for political enemies to exploit.

We now know that when Hillary assumed the pose of a flight attendant on her campaign plane, the decision to abandon her private Lear jet and fly with the press was less a populist move than an effort to save needed dollars. With the Clintons, as the saying goes, they're always there when they need you. If they do reach the White House, it will be despite the media; the Clintons' paranoia about the press will only increase as the campaign rolls along. Knowing how the media magnifies every tiny chink in the armor, campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe convened a conference call Thursday afternoon to trumpet the campaign's fund-raising prowess in the days immediately following Super Tuesday. They raised $7.5 million online, $6.4 million of it in the last 24 hours, he said. "It surprised even me, the ultimate optimist," he said, adding that top staffers were once again getting paid after only a brief hiatus.

Nobody is counting the Clintons out. They have more institutional strength in the party than Obama. And the delegates needed to put her over the top can probably be found among the 796 so-called superdelegates, many of whom have ties to the Clintons because of their long tenure on the national political stage. If either Obama or Clinton open up a statistically significant lead among delegates won in primaries and caucuses, the superdelegates would almost certainly ratify the voters' choice rather than risk a revolution in the party by seeming to overturn the popular vote (and dredge up memories of Florida 2000). The problem arises, says Brookings Institution scholar Bill Galston, who is backing Clinton, when the winner of the primary and caucus delegates enjoys only the narrowest of margins. What happens if Hillary wins 1623 delegates compared to Obama's 1630 delegates, which roughly corresponds to the small difference between them today? "Are you telling me if 410 superdelegates went for her and 386 for him under those circumstances, that would somehow be a moral breach? Give me a break," Galston says.

If it comes to that fine a distinction, you can be sure the two camps will be armed with other statistics--like the higher number of votes Hillary got in big-state primaries versus the higher number of delegates Obama gleaned in small-state caucuses. It could come down to a debate over which is more democratic. Either way, the decision is better left in the hands of voters than party insiders. In an effort to break the deadlock, Michigan and Florida may hold do-over caucuses or primaries sometime in May, paid for by the DNC. Both states broke party rules when they moved their election to January in an attempt to have more influence and had their delegates stripped by the DNC as a result. Hillary won both contests, but the results are tainted. If the state parties agree to a rerun, Michigan and Florida could prove pivotal.

With events propelling Clinton and Obama toward a joint run, Democrats should ask themselves whether their dream ticket could be a nightmare. Neither candidate has the soul of a vice president. The key question is which of the two would be stronger against McCain. Hillary could attract women Republicans wary of McCain's bellicosity while Obama would present the clearest choice between peace and war. The two of them running together may be the only way to resolve the impasse, but it's hard to imagine a White House big enough for both of them--and Bill Clinton, too.

The Price of Party Infighting | News