I would like someone to explain the the limits in campaigning for candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Surely the selection process is not intended to be the aggressive affair that national elections have become. Theoretically I suppose the limit is the point at which the campaigning starts to hurt the party, the point at which the party’s prospects for success in the election are diminished. I suppose that point is reached when the campaign either starts alienating voters from the eventual nominee or when or when the campaign takes on a tenor that pushes independents toward the other party.
The Washington Post and several other services have determined that Hillary Clinton is too far behind to win a majority of delegates from the primaries and caucuses. With her “big win” on Tuesday she gained no ground and because there are fewer delegates to win now, she actually lost ground. Conventional wisdom is that she will inevitably end up with fewer delegates than Obama, with a lower approval level than Obama. Her hopes for nomination rest with her ability to convince the super delegates to confer the nomination on her, rather than on Obama, the more popular choice.
This has prompted a very aggressive campaign by her, one fueled by false statements (it turns out that it was Clinton, not Obama who told the Canadian government that the campaign rhetoric about NAFTA meant nothing), innuendo (Clinton hedged when asked if Obama was Christian), fear mongering (the infamous telephone call at 3 a.m.). This is certainly divisive stuff but — at least in my mind — it is not clearly fraying the fabric of the party, although it’s moving in that direction.
It also creates a legitimate test for Obama. Will he wilt under unfair treatment? Will he stick his head in the sand like Kerry with swift boating? Or will he step forward like a leader and advocate for the truth?
Clinton has though adopted a tactic that at least on its face appears to unequivocally advance her personal interests over those of her party. Clinton claims that Obama is not in the same league as she and McCain! She says that she and McCain are qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and Obama is not. When she talked about the candidates getting together on the same ticket she apparently was referring to McCain and herself, not she and Obama.
Part of her campaign is that she is the more electable candidate, when the polls show that Obama compares better with McCain than she does. Is she trying to render him unelectable so that she will be the default candidate. To the degree that this approach has credence with people, it certainly promotes McCain’s candidacy. McCain apparently need not campaign at all while Clinton is contending with Obama for the Democratic nomination. This is surely beyond the line of legitimacy in campaigning for a party’s nomination.
This situation is reminiscent of the 1972 primary groundswell for McGovern. The party establishment fought him every step of the way. They tried to change the delegate rules, that time for California, not Florida and Michigan. He was so much castigated by the party elite that a Democrats for Nixon branch evolved. With a tattered party behind him McGovern, a truly great man, lost in a landslide to Nixon whose dirty tricks were exposed after his election (most notably the Watergate breakin), leading to Nixon’s resignation.
It was ten years after this that the Democratic primary system was revamped to include the huge number of super-delegates we now talk about. The main reason for this, as I understand it, was to avoid destructive primaries, such as the party experienced in 1972 and 1980. Ironically, it seems to be Clinton’s hope of winning the super-delegates that has inspired the mudslinging that the appointment of super-delegates was supposed to avoid.