The common chant these days is that Hillary Clinton should, for the sake of the Democratic Party, exit the race to become the nominee.
The argument states that while the two remaining candidates destroy each other, their ultimate opponent, John McCain, is capitalizing on their battle. While Clinton obstinately insists she will soldier on, Obama followers cry out about the damage she is creating.
Put aside the issues of fairness and the right to seek nomination, not to mention the Party’s own hoisting on its own superdelegate petard (as well as its own Florida and Michigan penalty petard), the Democrats should not be so quick to underscore their injuries vis-a-vis the general election. Nor should Republicans rejoice as if victory has already arrived.
A continuing Democratic battle may, in fact, work in favor of the Party’s November chances.
First, it has flushed out many of the weak spots or vulnerabilities in a safer environment. That is, the Rev. Wright material as well as the Clinton propensity to invent memories (such as her Bosnian “combat” excursion) have been aired publicly with some degree of kid gloves. As the public tires of these issues, it will have exhausted them without great Republican interference.
Indeed, Republicans have largely avoided the fray, presumably to either execute the theory that when opponents are committing suicide one should stay away or avoid the appearance of piling on.
Yet first impressions are the strongest, and the Republicans are forfeiting (rightly or wrongly) an opportunity to influence the shaping of both of these issues. Certainly we will hear about them during the general campaign season but we will simultaneously hear the proclamation that these issues have already been addressed, that they are just Republican dirty tricks or the latest “Swiftboat” example, and do not dignify any further response.
More significantly, we will hear that if the Democratic nominee survived the other Democrat’s attacks, then that is evidence that the issues should fade away. In essence, while today we hear “Wait ’til you see what the Republican attack machine will do with that!,” later, much of the public will refuse to listen to it.
Further, the expectation of a steamrolling Republican attack machine may not be matched by reality. There is such a demerit given these days to so-called “negative campaigning” that such attacks may not last very long. Today’s media places great emphasis on giving the appearance of equal rebuttal time which is often turned into an attack on the attacker for attacking. And that, in turn, becomes just more noise for the voter who often turns away.
Additionally, McCain in particular has announced his aversion to negative campaigning. On the assumption, then, that these issues that are emerging concerning the two Democratic candidates would otherwise come out, they should be very pleased that they are being framed and dealt with now as they will likely carry less sting later.
McCain is also portrayed as getting a free ride during this time. While there is some benefit here — time to raise money and look presidential by traveling abroad — McCain is also held in a media limbo that he does not control.
He recently released an ad which includes a clip of his time as a POW. Because he can not yet hone his approach against a specific Democrat, however, some, if not much, of the ad’s meaning is not only lost but can later become anesthetized. Seeing that material now will diffuse much of its impact going forward. He can certainly attempt to kill these two birds with one stone but using a stone now will tend to make all rocks later look simply like more stones.
Finally, this almost endless Democratic beauty contest tends to exhaust the public while strengthening the candidates. While Clinton has a variety of political skills honed over the past 15 years, this campaign is truly a training ground for Obama. And he is making the best of it.
He has fine tuned his ability to remain “above the fray” even during fierce conflicts with Clinton. This is a tool that not only helps sell his message of “transcendence,” but will be increasingly important should he go toe to toe against McCain, whose main message will include the notion of being best able to unite the country. (McCain is actually the only one of the three who really does this but Obama has effectively sold the notion that he will do so despite his extreme liberal history).
Clinton has also gained from these battles. She has weathered opposition from her own party and shown that her “faithful” continue to stick by her side. She has been able to be “the comeback kid” more than once, matching that same feature of McCain’s. As high as her “negatives” may be, even they’d reach a saturation point and may turn around to some degree or other.
Contrary to popular pundit opinion, this period, even if it extends well into the summer or through the conventions, does not create a net negative for the Democrats. The Republicans who are enjoying that erroneous fantasy should be very careful.
If there is any opposition material they wish to get in, perhaps now is the time to speak. Otherwise, they may be holding their pieces. They may later find themselves facing a much strengthened, not wounded, candidate.
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