The Huckabee Option

As you all know by now, I'm an Obama supporter, and as any of you who read my post from last night know, I think that the primary race is essentially over at this point. Technically, Obama has not clinched the nomination, but reaistically, Clinton's chances are extraordinarily long at this point, to the point that they're all but insurmountable.

So you probably expect that I think Hillary Clinton should be quickly hustled off the stage, so that the coronation can begin. I don't, but I understand why you may think so; after all, more than a few of my fellow Obama supporters have been clamoring for Clinton to leave the race since roughly March 6 -- and I agree, there is misogyny, or at the very least blindness to privilege, inherent in those calls.

Then again, there's no doubt that Clinton has been more than willing to adopt right-wing frames in the past few weeks in order to attack Obama. She's attacked him as an elitist, pandered on the gas tax holiday, and today has her surrogates making the argument that Clinton's success with white voters in North Carolina proves she's the better candidate -- an argument that is no less racist than prematurely calling for Clinton to exit is sexist. That certainly has soured me on the effect of Clinton's continued presence in the race, even as I acknowledge that she has every right to stick around indefinitely. Calm down, everyone on both sides -- she's certainly not Nixon, or Bush, or Rove, or even Newt. She's not being evil. She's just running a negative campaign, just like thousands of trailing candidates before her. But neither is she doing no harm. That negative campaign still has the potential to do damage to the person who is the likely Democratic nominee, and to the Democrats' chances to win in November.

This leads, inevitably, to some cognative dissonance, as I find myself hoping Clinton will choose to leave on her own while simultaneously hoping the folks in Obama's camp won't manage to push her out of the race (and getting frustrated with those who keep trying). There has to be some way to square the two, my hope that Clinton will not continue serving as a negative force, and my belief that she should be free to end the campaign if and when she -- and she alone -- decides to.

And there is. The template was laid out earlier this year by Mike Huckabee, of all people. And following the template would give Clinton, Obama, and the Democratic Party the best chance to come out of this primary season unified.

After Super Tuesday, John McCain had essentially sewn up the Republican nomination, in fact if not by the numbers. Mitt Romney dutifully dropped out, but Huckabee stayed in the race. Yes, his odds were long bordering on insurmountable. Yes, the math didn't work out for him at all. Yes, it was probably a quixotic decision to continue on. But Huckabee did so anyhow, and indeed, he won a few states and was somewhat competitive for a while.

What Huckabee didn't do was attack McCain. He ran hard, he focused on his key issues, he tweaked Obama and Clinton. He ran hard, but he ran positive.

Why did he do it? Well, I suspect for the same reason Clinton doesn't want to quit the campaign -- because until the numbers became truly insurmountable, there was always a chance, no matter how small, that something could happen to throw him the election. Yes, for Huckabee it would have required John McCain to devour someone whole. Yes, for Clinton it probably involves photographs of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright in flagrante delicto. But until the finish line is crossed, there's always the chance the leader could fall, and not get back up.

By staying in the race, Clinton keeps alive her chance to finish if Obama cannot. And that's perfectly understandable. But if Obama falls because he was tripped up with GOP talking-points shared by the Clinton campaign, the victory Clinton would win would be pyrrhic indeed.

Contrawise, if Clinton spends the next four-to-six weeks pounding home her policy issues, hiting hard at McCain, making the positive case for her candidacy and the Democratic agenda, she'll accomplish at least three things. She'll keep herself alive as a candidate, she'll gain the support of disgruntled Obama supporters, and she'll help the ultimate Democratic nominee, whomever that should be.

Don't get me wrong -- I don't think Clinton should be forced from the race even if she wants to spend from now 'til August attacking Obama as an arugula-muching Muslim who scares whitey. But if that's how she wants to close out the campaign, she's likely to further alienate Democrats who have eaten arugula occasionally, aren't afraid of Muslims, and don't believe Democrats should be leaning on race as an electoral tool.

Hillary Clinton is a very talented politician. And she is certainly not stupid. And there are some early indications that she might be thinking along these lines:
Well, Hillary Clinton did make one reference to “solutions, not speeches” at the event she just held in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, but apart from that mild, implicit dig, she didn’t cast any stones Barack Obama’s way. Instead, her comments focused mostly on George W. Bush and seven years of poor GOP governance. Will this be the tone of her campaign in the two weeks leading up to the primaries in West Virginia, Oregon, and Kentucky? Who knows. But if you’re rooting for the Democratic race to take on a friendlier, more united character, it strikes me as a promising sign.
As Steve Benen says:
The principal reasons to end the Democratic campaign are to prevent Dems from tearing each other apart, and to start getting ready for the general election. If Clinton were poised to spend the next several weeks trying to destroy Obama in the hopes the superdelegates would give her the nomination, the scorched-earth approach has the potential to be disastrous.

But if she’s willing to focus her efforts on McCain, Bush, and “seven years of poor GOP governance,” there’s less of a rush.
Exactly. I don't believe for a second that Clinton has been the worst, most terriblest candidate in the world, and if she runs an issue-focused campaign over the next month or so, her continued presence in the race would be a strong positive for the Democrats -- and should Obama fall, it will make it easier for Obama supporters to rally 'round Clinton. But if she wants to continue with a negative campaign, with the odds what they are...well, she has the right to continue the race, and that should not be questioned. But that doesn't mean people have to like or endorse the campaign she's running.

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