Every day for awhile now, I've gone online looking for one of two things: some indication that the Phillies have made a move to complete a pitching staff that currently has just ten guys on it (12 is the norm, and there's no way they'll have fewer than 11), and Hillary Clinton bowing to reality and dropping out of the Democratic presidential race. The calendar suggests that the first thing will happen soon--the Phils' season starts on Monday--but we'll probably have to wait at least four more weeks, and more likely six, for the second.
Clinton can't win. She's managed to damage Barack Obama somewhat--he now trails John McCain head-to-head among independents, after leading the Republican through the first two months of this year--but not help herself. Even if Obama were to fall short, his enraged supporters--and the Democrats' terror of losing African-Americans--would ensure it went to Al Gore or someone else not currently in the race. This CQ Politics article--titled "Clinton Struggling With Her Likability Problem"--would be funny if it weren't so painful:
[O]ne race Obama is winning by the numbers is the favorability race whether the measure is positive/negative reactions to the two, or traits that voters like or dislike about each.
Here’s a collection of findings on this score from a range of polls:
• Obama bests Clinton among Democratic voters by margins of 15 percent to 20 percent on the traits of being “down to earth,” “inspiring” and “honest,” according to Pew. More Democrats think Clinton is “phony” and “hard to like” than they do about Obama.
• Pew said the things Democrats most dislike about Clinton are her personality, the idea that she has “too much baggage,” and that she is too ambitious.
• The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said 48 percent of Democrats in its survey viewed Clinton as somewhat or very negative versus 37 percent who had very or somewhat positive perceptions of her. Two weeks ago, 45 percent viewed her positively, and 43 percent viewed her negatively. Obama is viewed positively by 49 percent of voters and negatively by 32 percent.
• In a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted March 14-16, forty-four percent of those surveyed said they considered Clinton honest and trustworthy while 53 percent did not. By contrast, McCain was considered honest and trustworthy by a 67 percent to 27 percent margin, and Obama was close at 63 percent to 29 percent.
• A Quinnipiac University poll of Connecticut voters found that 47 percent of all voters viewed her unfavorably to 46 percent who viewed her favorably. Obama’s favorability rating was 59 to 24 percent and McCain’s was 52 percent to 31 percent. A quarter of Clinton detractors in the poll said she was dishonest.
In a widely cited article earlier this week, David Brooks (admittedly not the best or most objective source when it comes to the Democrats) suggested that Clinton has perhaps a five percent chance to win the nomination. I think he overstates the mark. Clinton's "likability" problem has gotten worse as she's thrown the kitchen sink, the hallway closet, the bathroom toilet, the cellar door and whatever else isn't nailed down at Obama: to really maul this metaphor, she's destroyed her own house in the process.
Still, the Democrats can't just shove her off the stage, even if (as is starting to seem evident) they really want to. Why? Consider this comment, left last night on The Carpetbagger Report:
I will vote in the primary for Hillary. I will vote in the election for Hillary. Even if the party picks Obama I will write in a vote for Hillary. I will not vote for a man who has the nerve to say that he has never heard his minister talk that way when he’s been attending for around 20. Poppy cock. He’s lying period.
Look around the liberal blogosphere--and I'm not even talking about the fanatical Clinton sites--and you'll see a lot more of the same. There's some number of dead-ender Clintonites out there--probably not the 25 to 28 percent suggested by some polls, but between a few hundred thousand and a few million--who are deeply, deeply invested in this candidacy. These hardest of the hard-core, almost all of whom seem to be women, evidently see their own life struggles reflected in Sen. Clinton’s campaign... and see in Barack Obama every man who’s put one over on them and gotten away with it because of the sexism that still is a force in our society.
It’s at least somewhat irrational, and certainly subjective--I can't see how one considers Obama's unwillingness to repudiate his pastor as more offensive than Clinton lying about her Mission to Bosnia. And I think Hillary Clinton is about the worst imaginable champion for the legitimate grievances of American women… but she’s the one in this race, so that doesn’t matter either. Much as I wish we had Laura Roslin running for president, we don’t.
Now, if Clinton were a responsible leader who put party and principle ahead of personal ambition, she’d see the writing on the wall and conclude that her historical reputation and future clout in the Senate–-which is what she’s playing for now; it’s a near-certainty that she’ll never be president, however much some think she's trying to kneecap Obama for 2012–-would benefit by graciously withdrawing and offering wholehearted support for the party’s nominee.
But for the moment at least, she seems willing, if not eager, to lead her supporters right over the cliff–-and take the party with her. The painful irony is that the Democrats need those supporters sufficiently badly that they can't yet cauterize the wounds the Clintons continue to inflict. They'll need to feel that she had her full opportunity and lost fair and square, so to speak, rather than getting shoved aside as another victim of institutional sexism. The problem is that she might never make that graceful concession--and that until she does, she'll continue to attack Obama, driving up his negatives and costing the Democrats a precious opportunity to start making their case against John McCain and a continuation of the Bush/Cheney reign of error.