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.
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.
At least one conservative Republican has come out and said that John McCain ought to denounce the Reverend Rod Parsley for his extreme anti-Islam rhetoric, and that's James Pinkerton, with whom I regularly appear on Bloggingheads.tv. Pinkerton, who was a domestic policy adviser for the first President Bush and who advised Mike Huckabee during his recent GOP presidential primary contest, says that McCain should reject the endorsement he's accepted from Parsley, a pastor at an Ohio megachurch who has said that it is the historic mission of the United States to see the "false religion" of Islam "destroyed."
For more on Parsley's anti-Islam ranting and to see the reverend in his full anti-Islam glory, click here for the video of Parsley's attack on Islam that was produced by Mother Jones and Brave New Films.
Up to now, McCain has steadfastly refused to renounce Parsley, an influential political force in the swing state of Ohio. Doing so could seriously hurt McCain's chances in the Buckeye State. So Pinkerton shouldn't expect McCain to heed his advice. Here's Pinkerton and I discussing the matter:
During a 2005 sermon, a fundamentalist pastor whom Senator John McCain has praised and campaigned with called Islam "the greatest religious enemy of our civilization and the world," claiming that the historic mission of America is to see "this false religion destroyed." In this taped sermon, currently sold by his megachurch, the Reverend Rod Parsley reiterates and amplifies harsh and derogatory comments about Islam he made in his book, Silent No More, published the same year he delivered these remarks. Meanwhile, McCain has stuck to his stance of not criticizing Parsley, an important political ally in a crucial swing state.
The morning after, the Clinton crew was unbowed. As Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night was being creamed by Barack Obama in North Carolina and eking out a narrow victory in Indiana, pundits throughout Cable News Land were pronouncing her dead, dead, dead. Tim Russert said the race was over. But when a reporter on the campaign's morning conference call, asked Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, if there had been "any discussions about not going forward," he said, "No discussions." And he seemed to mean it.
On the call, Wolfson, deputy communications director Phil Singer, and chief strategist Geoff Garin were forward-looking. They claimed to be "happy" about the 1.8-percent win in Indiana--but without sounding at all jubilant about the squeaker. As for North Carolina--where she lost by 14 points--they claimed "progress" there and pointed to the fact that she beat Obama among white voters by 24 points (as if the increasing racial polarization within the Democratic primary electorate is something to celebrate). They acknowledged that Clinton had in recent weeks loaned her campaign nearly $6.5 million--and claimed it was a sign of her commitment to moving ahead and, of course, fighting for real people. They repeated the campaign's call to seat the disputed delegations of Florida and Michigan, and they indicated they were ready to rumble in the upcoming primaries. Voters in those states, Garin said, should be given the ability "to express their voice." He added, "All we are doing is suggesting the process ought to play out."
In other words, damn the pundits, full speed ahead. It appeared that Clinton--faced with three alternatives: fighting on as if nothing has changed, dropping out, or planning a graceful exit strategy--has for the time being settled on option one.