Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Even though Hillary Clinton is campaigning onward, a key question for her is how gracious a loser she can be. How she handles what seems to be her pending defeat could affect Barack Obama's prospects in the fall and her own future political career, especially if Obama is defeated by John McCain in the fall. Regarding the former, much media attention has been showered on the possibility that many Clinton voters are so mad-as-hell that they won't vote for Obama in November. On Monday, The Washington Postfront-paged a piece on PO'ed women who support Clinton and suggested that some of these voters will choose John McCain rather than vote for the guy who dashed Clinton's glass-ceiling-breaking dreams.
For Clinton, a test will be what she does to mitigate the anger of her followers and lead them into Obama-land. Right now, she appears to be putting off this challenge until after the primaries end of June 3. Which is fine. But her campaign does seems content until then to flame her voters' sense of being aggrieved.
John McCain today gave a big speech to describe what the United States would look like in 2013, after four years of a McCain presidency. Boldly and confidently peering into that future, McCain sees that "the Iraq war has been won" and that "Iraq is a functioning democracy." The threat from the Taliban has been "greatly reduced," and Osama bin Laden has been captured or killed. Iran and North Korea no longer hold nuclear ambitions. Sudan is at peace. The United States economy is growing robustly. Government spending has been cut. New free trade agreements have led to prosperity at home and abroad. Public education is "much improved." Health care "has become more accessible to more Americans." The threat from global warming has declined. The border is secured. There have been no terrorist attacks against the United States.
In other words, a fairy tale.
In this address, McCain does not explain how he has managed to orchestrate all these miracles. It's nothing but a wish list. And in the news coverage of the speech, the media have focused on McCain's quasi-promise to win the Iraq war and withdraw most U.S. troops by 2013--which is certainly easier said than done. But what's most interesting about this speech is what's not in it: abortion and gay marriage.
Regarding these two top issues for social conservatives--many of whom have long been wary of McCain--the presumptive Republican nominee says nary a word. Looking into his crystal ball, he envisions no outlawing of abortion or gay marriage during his years in the White House. He doesn't even foresee an effort to do anything on these fronts. The closest he comes to addressing the priorities of the fundamentalist right is to note the appointment (and confirmation!) of federal judges "who understand that they were not sent there to write our laws but to enforce them." This is, of course, code language for judges willing to overturn Roe v. Wade and to hold the line against gay marriage. But McCain's de rigueur right-wing boilerplate hardly substitutes for a vision of a McCain-governed America in which abortion is criminalized and gay marriage banned across the land.
Any self-respecting social conservative should be enraged. On a day when the California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban, McCain's speech is insult added to injury. It goes to show that those leaders of the religious right who were suspicious of McCain were right to fret that McCain was only a fair-weather--that is, primary season--friend. In his future, their chief concerns are not even worth mentioning.
There is a lot of talk among political observers that John Edwards' better-late-than-never endorsement of Barack Obama will help Obama among working-class (read: white) voters, as Edwards extends his populist mantle to the near-presumptive Democratic nominee. Such talk is overstated, for Obama won't need Edwards in the fall to prove he's the populist in the race. With John McCain as the Republican nominee, Obama will have little competition in the most-populist category.
Too many commentators are, for the moment, still stuck in an Obama-versus-Clinton framework. That is so three-days-ago. The race is essentially over. Obama no longer needs to do better than Hillary Clinton among Democratic working-class voters in Democratic primaries. Clinton cannot overcome his lead in pledged delegates, and Obama has surpassed her in superdelegate commitments. (Edwards' endorsement is indeed one more signal that it's curtains for Clinton, and the handful of delegates pledged to him presumably will trot over to Obama's column.) So baring any unforeseen calamities or drama, Obama is it.
That means he no longer has to worry about having more populist appeal to Democratic voters than Clinton. His concern is McCain and attracting blue-collar and white voters in the general election against the Republican nominee. Sure, Edwards can help in that mission. But in some ways, this task is easier.
Ever since she failed to cream Barack Obama in Indiana, pundits and analysts have been chewing this over--and now that the West Virginia primary is done, even though she won by a more than two-to-one margin, the question still hovers. After all, Obama has racked up an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates and has pulled ahead in the superdelegate count, meaning the race is essentially complete. Clinton and her campaign advisers have argued that she can still win the nomination if she does well in the last few primaries and then persuades superdelegates she is the better candidate to do battle with John McCain. But the superdelegates don't seem receptive to her case. And the fact that she has throttled back on the anti-Obama rhetoric in recent days--she barely criticized him in her not-so-jubilant West Virginia victory speech--is a signal that she may not believe her own spin and is merely halfheartedly trudging toward the last primaries (Montana and South Dakota) on June 3.
Yet there she is--an active and hard-working candidate. And the commentators have come up with several obvious explanations:
* She wants to remain in the hunt just in case something happens. (A video appears of Wright calling for armed revolution? Fox News produces Obama's Secret Muslim Membership card?)
* She is staying in for one last round of fundraising. (Her campaign is $20 million in debt and owes her $11 million.)
* She wants to end her historic campaign with a string of victories: West Virginia, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico. (Puerto Rico? She is a senator from New York.)
* And the most obvious of them all: she's not yet ready to face the music.
No doubt, a combo of these rationales is fueling Clinton's impossible ride. But let me add one more to the mix: Clinton is setting up the biggest I-told-you-so in recent American political history.
On Fox News Sunday, Howard Wolfson, the communications director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, dismissed talk of Clinton quitting the race and declared, "The voters are going to decide this."
But that's not the true stance of the Clinton campaign. Its plan, as the campaign acknowledged last week, is to persuade the superdelegates that Clinton would be the best candidate in the fall against John McCain. That is, its position is that the superdelegates ought to vote for Clinton no matter what the voters in the Democratic primaries and caucuses decide. And given that it's essentially a mathematical certainty that Obama will end up with more voter-determined delegates, this means that the Clinton camp is actually insisting that superdelegates, not voters, determine the winner.
With Clinton campaigning fiercely in West Virginia, which holds a primary on Tuesday, she has not yet given up. That may happen in the coming weeks or when the primaries end on June 3. But while she remains in the race, she has only one path to the nomination: superdelegates voting against the results of the primaries and caucuses. And her odds are diminishing. Each day, Obama picks up one or more superdelegates, and he now leads among these delegates. So it seems Clinton really has one hope: something happens. (Divine intervention?) All this--staying in the race, targeting superdelegates, waiting for Obama to crash--is within Democratic Party rules. But let's not confuse such a strategy with empowering voters. The Clinton campaign is hoping to draw enough voter support in the final primaries so it can have the opportunity to overturn the will of the voters.