Pondering Clinton's Place

The “HRC can come back” bandwagon is rolling through town, and I spent a long time yesterday contemplating whether to jump on board. But the platform on which her supporters stand right now seems more tenuous by the day.

It is very difficult, from the standpoint of politics, of delegate mathematics, and of the news media, to envision a scenario where Hillary Clinton not only recovers her momentum but actually finds a way to obtain a delegate lead -- just about the only way she can possibly convince the party that she deserves time to make her case for the nomination.

At best, there are shots at an extreme angle, the sort of devil-may-do existentialities that are common to all endeavors -- Obama could call Clinton a cuss word on stage, etc. Something like this might happen; we’ve seen a heck of a lot of black swans this cycle. But there’s no way to plan for it, and the more obvious it becomes that you’re just in it to wait for one, the less viable you really are.

The delegate math works against her; that is obvious and evident every time you look at it. Recouping 100 earned delegates from Obama will be next to impossible unless she sweeps the remaining contests and earns more than 60% of the vote in each of them. Even then, she may have a deficit, depending on who’s counting. (If Puerto Rican Democrats follow their own rules, all the delegates will not magically accrue to a single candidate.)

There is a distinction between super delegates and earned delegates, even if their vote counts the same.

Based on conversations with neutral super delegates and a brief perusal of history, it seems extremely unlikely that the mass of undecided super delegates are willing to play a Gary Hart-quashing role they did in 1984. The reason why many of them remain undecided today is that they are afraid to cross the Clintons so long as there’s a tiny chance that the Clintons might win.

The Clinton campaign has been accused of moving the goal posts every time they fail to reach a previously promised threshold, but the goal posts, right now, are at the back of the stadium. They can’t be moved any further back without bringing the whole thing down. It’s unlikely that the news media, more pro-Obama than anti-Hillary, would give any credence to another attempt to push the contest into April. And, come to think it, there’s no energy left on the Clinton campaign to do, either.

Advisers figure that a loss in Texas is as likely as a win in Ohio; a large number of staffers appear to be willing to quit en masse next Wednesday if there’s a split decision and Clinton gives notice that she intends to fight for another month.

And what of Clinton herself? To borrow my favorite Christian heresy metaphor, many in the political world are Manicheans when it comes to her motives. Either she is entirely evil and devious or she is totally pure and misunderstand. Her actions to date suggest that she is more aware of her surroundings that people give her credit for. She does not seem to want to hurt the party; she does not want to jeopardize Obama in November -- yes, yes, I know, 2012 and all that, but she also knows that the truth is, her political career would not be over if she were to concede the nomination gracefully, only that part of it that has depended, for better or worse, on her husband.

This is not to say that the only logical course of action would be for her to quit. It's just that, as she answers questions during tonight's debate, she may, once again, have two different audiences in mind.