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.
"It is so wonderful to be here." So declared Hillary Clinton in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday evening, as vote results being tallied in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia showed she was being clobbered by Barack Obama. But worse for Clinton was that she was losing another clump of post-Super Tuesday primaries by large margins (51 points in D.C., 29 points in Virginia, 23 points in Maryland) because her base voters were abandoning her. The message of the night: Clinton should be scared. And perhaps John McCain should be, too.
Let me humbly suggest that Nick's pledge idea has a flaw. Sure, you can try to compel Democratic superdelegates to vote for whichever candidate arrives at the convention with the most delegates. But few will sign such a pledge, whether or not the Obama and Clinton campaign ask them to do so. Why give up a privilege? Especially when--here's the real issue--outside events might change the landscape.
The last big-state primary (Pennsylvania) occurs on April 22 and the primaries altogether end on June 3. What if in between those dates and the Democratic convention, which opens on August 25, something happens? Maybe Barack Obama is in the lead, and a news report discloses he once sold dope to lobbyists for a health insurance industry. Maybe Hillary Clinton is ahead, and it turns out she did hide legal records during the Whitewater investigation and plotted with her husband to kill their political enemies. In such instances, superdelegates might want to mount a course correction.
Admittedly, these are extreme examples. But there could be other less extreme circumstances in which it would make sense for the superdelegates to reconsider the popular will. As I noted, my hunch is that superdelegates will not willy-nilly vote to hand the nomination to the second-place finisher just out of personal preference. They will be under much scrutiny. And blowing up the party to save a nominee will not be undertaken lightly.
Omigod! Here come the superdelegates! The Washington Post's Paul Kane has done the math and reached the conclusion that the Democratic presidential race will be decided by superdelegates--those 800 or so party officials and officeholders who are automatically awarded delegate status and who can vote any which way they please at the convention. Kane explains:
There are 3,253 pledged delegates, those doled out based on actual voting in primaries and caucuses. And you need 2,025 to win the nomination.
To date, about 52 percent of those 3,253 delegates have been pledged in the voting process -- with Clinton and Obama roughly splitting them at 832 and 821 delegates a piece, according to the AP.
That means there are now only about 1,600 delegates left up for grabs in the remaining states and territories voting.
So, do the math. If they both have 820 plus pledged delegates so far, they'll need to win roughly 1,200 -- 75 percent -- of the remaining 1,600 delegates to win the nomination through actual voting.
In other words: Ain't gonna happen...And then the super delegates decide this thing.
Does this mean the contest will be settled in some smoke-free backroom by machine hacks who don't give a fig about the Democratic vox populi?
Mitt Romney has quit the race. It seems that his money was no good here.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Romney announced he was suspending his campaign. In a fiery speech, he took shots at France, Harvard, and liberal judges. Citing pornography and "government welfare," he thundered that the "threat to our culture" comes "from within." Hailing family values and decrying gay marriage, this past supporter of abortion rights and gay rights positioned himself as one of the GOP's leading culture warriors. He called for tax cuts, deregulation, and tort reform. He denounced Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's positions on Iraq as a "surrender to terror." And he called for beefing up the U.S. military to deal with "radical jihad" and the China challenge. In other words, he reminded the cheering crowd of conservative die-hards at CPAC that he's a full-throttle conservative on all fronts: culture, economics, and national security. He's now 60 years old. In four years, he will be seven years younger than John McCain is today. And remember this: Ronald Reagan failed to win the GOP nomination in 1976 before he nabbed it in 1980. And there's this: if John McCain does manage to win in November, could he run for a second term, given his age?
Romney's message to the conservatives today was this: I'm your Reagan. He and they may just have to wait a few more years before those pesky Republican primary voters get it.
One key question now is, what will Mike Huckabee do? Recently, he's become the anti-Romney spoiler--sweeping up non-McCain voters and preventing Romney from becoming a competitive alternative to McCain. It seemed that Huckabee and McCain had an implicit--if not explicit--nonaggression pact, and this has even fueled talk of a Mack-Huck ticket. So with no need any longer for him to block Romney to help McCain, what's Huckabee's role in the race? With his get-Romney mission accomplished, will he withdraw and wait for his reward?
Yesterday, John McCain asked his foes on the right to "just calm down a little." He was talking about Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and other conservative big-mouths who in recent days have pumped up the volume of their anti-McCain crusade. Just the day before, James Dobson, a leading social conservative who heads Focus on the Family, declared, "I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative, and in fact has gone out of is way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are." (Last year, Dobson also accused Fred Thompson of not being a real Christian.)
As the Republican Establishment swings behind McCain--each day his campaign sends out several emails noting this or that endorsement from a GOP figure--the conservative ideologues are holding firm. This is setting up a dramatic split between the GOP elite and the conservative movement's leading influentials. The ideologues hate McCain for several reasons. He has pushed bipartisan, Democratic-backed legislation on campaign finance reform, global warming, and, worse, immigration reform. He never got on his knees before the conservatives--particularly the religious right. In 2000, he blasted Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for exerting too much influence over his party. And--egads!--he has been a favorite of Washington journalists, that band of well-known, America-hating liberals. The fact that McCain has been a prominent champion of the Iraq war--the number one issue for most of his detractors--means nothing to these ingrates.
Today, McCain is appearing at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering of hundreds, if not thousands, of rightwing activists. Imagine John Kerry speaking to a convention of Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth. (My colleague Jonathan Stein will have a report on McCain's appearance later.) But if McCain believes he can make nice with the rightwing talkers, he's kidding himself. This group--especially Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter--have no incentive to be pragmatic. They each earn much money by being provocative. Their first loyalty is to their audience, which expects hard-edged ideological warfare from them. They go soft--or reasonable--and they risk their reputations.
It's possible McCain could engage in an act of self-flagellation so extreme, his right-wing critics could claim victory and boast that he kissed their rings. But in the absence of such a move, they will keep pounding him. It makes good TV and radio. So if the Democrats are stuck with a months-long battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the GOP could have on its hand a never-ending cat-fight between its nominees and the spiritual leaders of the conservative movement. As of now, the conflict between Obama and Clinton has not gone so far that it cannot be resolved when that race is done. The McCain wars on the right could continue right up to Election Day.