Re: Maximum Damage Theory

Responding to our earlier post , Slate ‘s James Ledbetter weighs in with a few more reasons Clinton shouldn’t count on a 2012 win:

1)        HRC is not getting any younger; she will turn 65 in 2012 and 69 in 2016. Multiple presidential bids are going to take their toll on her;

2)        Let’s say Obama loses to McCain ’08. Will Democratic voters really conclude that the problem is Obama (even if, arguably, they should )? I don’t think they will. I think the standing Democratic wisdom will be that Obama did a remarkable job on his first presidential run, and another 4 years and he may be able to pull it off.

3)        Leaving aside McCain’s age, in general it is much harder to win an election against an incumbent president than it is to win when the job is open. On this point, Bill Clinton’s election in ’92 was the exception that shows the rule – and remember, he won that year with only 42% of the vote, thanks to Mr. Perot.

Couple thoughts on #2: Obama has intimated that despite hisyouth, this is his one shot at the presidency, as if to say he won’t runagain. It’s a good ploy to disarm voters who argue that it’s “not his time” yet, but it’salso hard to swallow. Even if Obama lost the 2008 election, he’d probably maintainenough support to sustain another run.  

But so would Hillary. If Obama lost to McCain, Clinton would find someway to blame it on Obama, perhaps deservedly. In retrospect, she would be the Cassandra of 2008. Her 2012 campaign slogan would be, “Told You So.” Think about the fallout after George McGovern’s loss in 1972—party leaders(and a lot of other Democrats) thought they’d taken too big a chance on theguy, clearing the path for a low-risk establishment figure, Jimmy Carter. Iwouldn’t be surprised if something similar happened after an Obama loss.Hillary would return as the establishment savior.

Of course, it would all depend on McCain’s margin of victory.McGovern got trounced by 23.2 points, pegging his candidacy as notjust a failure but a disaster. If Obama got beaten by a hair, the reactionprobably wouldn’t be so heated. But either way, I still think Hillary couldcarve out a rationale for a re-run.

Update 3:11 p.m.: Whaddayaknow, Huffington Post has an interview with McGovern on this very subject. Turns out he does see parallels between his campaign and Obama’s – not that Obama will lose in the general, but that he’ll be a victim of the same intramural warfare that dogged McGovern even after he won the nomination. There’s also this fascinating parallel:

In ‘72, after he won the California primary and clinched thenomination, McGovern’s Democratic opponents argued that the delegationshould have been rewarded on a proportional basis, rather thanwinner-take-all. It was, McGovern says, a changing of the rules inmid-game that resulted both in the weakening of his campaign and hislimping into the convention. Thirty-six years later, he sees parallelswith the Clinton campaign’s push to count the results of thenon-DNC-sanctioned Florida and Michigan primaries.

If Obama spent the summer fending off Florida and Michigan-related litigation, that’s less time to focus on building a machine against McCain. Now that Clinton’s case for winning the popular vote hinges on whether those two states “count,” don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon. As a matter of fact, they’re ramping up the fight yet again .