Well, as I said yesterday I feared would happen, Hillary Clinton used a cruel ad of not-so-veiled racial code words to argue Barack Obama was not ready for the presidency -- specifically a 3 a.m call to the White House about a terrorist act somewhere in the world -- and it worked with Texas voters. The late deciders broke for Clinton, according to the exit polls, and she won the popular vote narrowly.
When a scrupulous idealist like Obama faces an unscrupulous scoundrel on the attack like Clinton, he is going to lose unless he abandons some of his scruples and plunges into a down-and-dirty fight. That's what Tom Bradley had to do in the Los Angeles mayoralty races to finally defeat Sam Yorty in their second go-around.
Obama was better organized and better financed in Texas, and arguably in Ohio, but when it came to the acid test he proved, as one commentator kept suggesting last night, to have a "glass jaw." He wilted. His response was weak, both to the ad in Texas and to Clinton's resourceful if dishonest exploitation of the NAFTA issue in Ohio. The result is another twist in the impassioned contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Despite still being behind in delegates, Clinton has restored her viability in the race, and the way is open for more sleazy tricks against Obama.
He may come back. He and his bright campaign staff may rebound, perhaps on the issue of Clinton having voted for the war in Iraq, perhaps on a more robust demand that Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, release their tax returns and White House records. But still, I think he's going to have a hard time becoming more effectively nasty than she is, and, if he did, he would certainly disillusion some of his more committed young backers, unused to the ways of power politics.
Just Clinton's nuanced denial that she believes rumors that Obama is a Muslim shows the sly trickery that marks her as a political figure. This was described last night on television as "brilliant Machiavellism. It's hard for Obama to effectively answer. She can say she hasn't made the charge, but still the rumor stays out there, and she is spreading it by her very denial.
I've expressed my view many times before that Clinton would be a disastrous president. Her divisiveness makes it extremely unlikely she would ever be able to bring the country together, especially since even if this does turn out to be a Democratic year, it already seems likely that many voters will split their ballots and send quite a few Republicans to Congress. A Clinton victory would send the country reeling into another period of great political bitterness. She already reminds me of Richard Nixon, wait until she really gets started.
The temptation now is for John McCain, who last night clinched the Republican nomination, barring a sudden health problem, to assume that he will have the luxury of preparing an attractive campaign, while the two Democrats do great damage to one another with ads and other moves that McCain can later appropriate for himself or point to with glee.
But McGain, who I admire, better watch out. Like Obama, he is an idealist, a believer in propriety in politics. He too could get snookered by the Clintons in a general election campaign.
Make no mistake about it, like Richard III, Hillary would use every conceivable low down trick to beat him. She may cry so much, voters will suspect him of abusing her. And she would use powerful arguments, hanging the unpopular Iraq war around his neck, and making his 71 years seem like 91.
Still, McCain has proven resiliency in his life. Like the Clintons, he keeps coming back, be it against his North Vietnamese captors or from near oblivion in the Republican campaign last summer. He has a pleasant manner, and he is a war hero at a time the nation needs one. Just as the Israelis turned back to their old warrior, Ariel Sharon, when they were threatened after 9-11, so Americans may feel most comfortable with this old warrior, should the White House phone ring about a terrorist attack at 3 a.m.
This gets to the question, however, as to how likely a terrorist attack between now and the election is. I don't think one is likely, because Osama bin Laden seems to have absorbed a lesson of 9-11: If he strikes, America will strike back, and, if he strikes before November, it is only going to help McCain politically. Bin Laden would probably not prefer a McCain presidency.
General de Gaulle used to tell about a painting that showed one poor angel trying to warn people that they were about to fall over a cliff, while they screeched at him for being a fear monger. But, the painting showed, at the last moment before the abyss, the people scrambling back for the angel's protection. This is what happened in de Gaulle's own heroic career, and it is conceivable it would happen in McCain's, but I just don't think Bin Laden is going to walk into that trap. He may be Hitlerian, but he doesn't have Hitler's impatience.
The potential angel in this case may be McCain, the scoundrel certainly is Clinton, and before the people fall into the abyss of another corrupt Clinton presidency, they might turn to the angel. But McCain's road is not likely to be easy.
Now, if Obama is the Democratic candidate and McCain the Republican, it would be a much more honorable campaign. But I'm beginning to think, based on last night's results, that Obama may never get there. Mark Halperin, Time magazine's political expert, argues this morning on "The Page" that there is an "inevitability" to the Obama candidacy, given his continued lead in elected delegates.
But I disagree. I said after the Feb. 5 superprimaries that it would all come down to Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. Clinton has now won two of those states, at least in the popular vote, and if she wins Pennsylvania her argument that she can win the big industrialized states and Obama can't will be greatly fortified. Not to mention doubts setting in among the superdelegates that he might not be up to taking on a security-oriented candidate like McCain.
In politics, trickery often will win out. It certainly did last night in Texas, and the Clintons and their Karl Rove-like guru, Mark Penn, have many more tricks up their sleeves.
Despite Clinton's popular vote victory in Texas, slowly reporting returns from the caucuses today indicated Obama won those, and, if this is so, he will actually amass more Texas delegates to the Democratic convention than Clinton.
Meanwhile, 477,000 votes, by registrars' estimates reported to the Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, remain uncounted from California's Feb. 5 primary. Many counties are simply not expeditiously counting the votes, and the press has given this little attention. As more votes are reported, Obama's percentage of the total has been slowly moving up, and has now reached 43%, compared to Clinton's 51.7%. The latest returns put Obama in the lead in his 20th county of the state's 58, Butte County. Obama is now leading in 18 counties in the Bay Area, the north Coast, the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra, and two in Southern California, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. A few more counties are very close and may tip to him. Bowen has been derelict in not enforcing the state regulations mandating that all votes be reported within 28 days of the election.
Labels: Presidential campaigning