Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary Clinton; Plausible Paths and the Samson Option

BJ at Northman's Fury asks whether or not Hillary Clinton is trying to destroy the Democratic Party if she is not the nominee. He is concerned about the new 527s, the shenanigans concerning super delegates, pledged delegates and trying to seat Michigan and Florida at the convention.

The whole win whatever the cost, whatever the rules that have to be broken, whatever the bridges that must be burned, or who has to be thrown under the bus.

I can only hope that the Democratic Party itself doesn't allow such tactics to prevail, that the leadership decides to honour the will of the voters and not to enable the Clinton's personal crusade for power. Because if Obama walks into the convention with a considerable lead in pledged delegates and walks out having lost because of backroom dealings, it will tear the party to pieces and hand McCain the presidency.

I think this question is being asked too early. We must remember that the both the primary and general election contests are winner take all propositions with weak agreement enforcement mechanisms. The winner gets the prize and the attendant power that comes with being the nominee (controlling the party machinery and the lead groups within the coalition) or President while the loser has little real or effective means of retribution.

The incentive to stay in the race as long as resources remain available to pursue a plausible path towards victory is strong for all candidates. In the 2004 cycle, the only Democrat who did not follow this incentive structure was Dennis Kucinich, as all other candidates dropped out as their road map to win was destroyed by reality. In 2008 all other Democrats dropped out fairly quickly when it became apparent that they could not win due to lack of money, lack of organization and lack of votes. The same applies to the Republican side where even Ron Paul dropped out when it became apparent that he could not accomplish his objectives. The only signifcant 2008 exception to the plausible path continuation theory is Mike Huckabee as it is nearly impossible for him to win the nomination. Although if one wishes to be morbid, Huckabee has a chance at the nomination if McCain's health fails and he plays Last Man Standing.

And I think we can all agree that Hillary Clinton still has a plausible path of winning the Democratic nomination even if that path is a low probability path. Here is her plan with all of the contingent statements in it.

IF the combination of the 527 attacks, McCain attacks and Hillary campaigning can bring Obama down OR IF Obama screws up royally in the next two weeks then Clinton wins Texas and Ohio big time.

IF Clinton wins Texas and Ohio, that may provide some momentum, money and positive press for her, as well as negative pressure on the Obama campaign to make unforced errors which will allow her to not get wiped out in any of the small contests

IF Clinton can start pulling even by Pennsylvania on the national polls with both Obama and McCain, she wins Pennsylvania on the basis of the Democratic machine and a closer primary.

IF by the end of May, Obama and Clinton are effectively tied in pledged delegates,Clinton can play hardball from June to the second day of the convention and turn some delegates over at both the pledged and super levels as well as get Michigan and Florida favorably seated.

IF all of this happens she wins the nomination....

Yeah, there are whole lot of IF statements in this scenario and she needs all of them to be fulfilled for her to have a chance at winning the nomination, but this is a plausible path that has a 15% to 20% chance of happening according to Intrade. I would not worry about Hillary Clinton adapting a Samson option unless and until she loses the pledged delegate count in either Texas or Ohio.

If she loses the pledged delegate count in Texas and/or Ohio and does not drop out within the week then I think this is an extraordinarily relevant question. But until then, this campaign season has been very clean compared to the pre-Iowa anti-Dean attacks in 2004, or the Bush campaign in South Caroline in 2000. The first 527 ad is a benign and probably ineffective contrast piece, and I don't think they'll get that dirty. So no worries yet

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