Monday, March 24, 2008

Clinton, odds and 2012

My good buddy Kyle at Comments from Left Field is raising and smashing a line of argument about Hillary Clinton's motives for continuing in the Democratic primary despite having a minimal chance of actually achieiving her goals.  And this line of speculation I think is wrong once you step back from the immediate primary fight and look at the surrounding reality.  I just want to add a bit on Kyle's work.

If you missed it, all the 2012 theorem really means is that Hillary Clinton is trying to destroy Barack Obama's chances of beating John McCain this fall so that Clinton can challenge him in four years.

I don't think that anyone really expects Clinton to wait her turn through a two term presidency and try and make another run at it when she's sixty-eight.  And even if she did, it is not likely that she would be the Vice Presidential pick for Obama meaning that she would have to face an uphill battle against someone who would be the presumptive nominee following an eight year Obama administration.

So, on the surface, there seems to be some plausibility to the idea that she may be setting herself up for another shot at the White House in four years.  But upon further scrutiny, one finds failed logic with this idea as well.

If the Clinton campaign is setting up a 2012 strategy now, it is failing for much the same reason her 2008 strategy is failing; negativity.  Indeed, the fatal flaw in executing a strategy that gives Obama the nomination but makes him unelectable is that it requires burning too many bridges.

Clinton's demographic base within the Democratic Party is facing a much weaker version of the shrinking core demographic problem that the Republicans are facing.  With the exception of her strong support among Hispanic voters, her coalition is maxed-out.  She does well with seniors who already participate at very high rates, she does well among whites who also participate at high rates, and she does well with the middle aged who participate at decent rates and are getting older.  She has not demonstrated a capacity to expand her very large base in any meaningful demographic.  And in 2012 if McCain is President, she will have minimal good will in the portions of the Democratic coalition that are rapidly growing in either numbers or participation rates.  And her competitors will know that they can raise dollar for dollar against her so the intimidation factor would be minimized in this scenario. 
Finally, there are two more reasons to doubt the 2012 strategy.  The first is that Al Gore is about the only losing Democratic nominee who has had the long term respect and influence within the party.  Running and losing in either the primary or the general election in order to gain experience for the next run is a viable strategy within the Democratic Party for the House, but it has not been the case for the White House.  Secondly, she will be 61 on Election Day 2008, and thus would be 65 on Election Day 2012, and I think the optics and acceptance of the American people voting for a senior citizen female for President is not there. 
So what is driving the Clinton campaign, especially as some insiders are giving it a 10% chance of winning the nomination? 
We live in a jackpot society where the winner takes all and the loser has very little recourse.  The nomination process is the ultimate jackpot.  The winner takes control of the party machinery for the next cycle, and the loser(s) have minimal agreement enforcement mechanisms at their disposal.  And if the winner takes the White House in November, the losers have no real enforcement mechanisms that are particulary viable, especially if one projects the Democrats increasing their hold on the House and Senate.  Defection does not work. 
So the traditional response to a single iteration jackpot, single winner, complete losers game is to go all in for as long as one has the resources to play in the hopes that something shakes the right way for you just as the jackpot is declared.  The odds suck, but bad odds are better than zero odds.  So I don't think Clinton is playing for 2012 as that scenario does not make a whole lot of sense, she is playing for now with a good strategy given a horrendous prospect of success.