Clinton’s Nasty Train Wreck Must Come to a Close

by Paul Hogarth on April 17, 2008

Hillary Clinton shouldn’t drop out of the race because it’s mathematically impossible for her to win the nomination. She needs to drop out because of her campaign’s dishonest, slash-and-burn tactics that hurt Barack Obama’s chances against John McCain – and make her even less appealing than before. While voters in Pennsylvania and other states still deserve to have their voices heard, Clinton’s Tonya Harding strategy has sabotaged her right to campaign for the Democratic nomination. And when Mark Penn’s former business partner writes an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post that encourages Clinton to “completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama,” you know that it’s way past time for her to leave.

As the clamor to have her drop out of the presidential race gets louder and louder, Hillary Clinton has taken on the mantle of Rocky Balboa to say that she “never gives up.” At a campaign stop, Bill Clinton said that for people to suggest that she drop out now would be unfair to the voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon and other states. In a way, that much is true. Concluding the race now would disenfranchise voters who live in states that did not schedule an early primary. And in a democracy, everybody should have a voice.

But Clinton has no one to blame but herself as to why she needs to drop out. Not because she cannot catch up in pledged delegates or the popular vote before the Convention (and the superdelegates aren’t looking good for her lately), but because her campaign has become a desperate string of attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee. Her continued presence in the race serves no purpose other than to bloody Barack Obama, making it more difficult for him to unite the party and win the presidency in November.

In the past few weeks, she has tried to make hay out of statements by Obama’s pastor, pulled the fear card out of Karl Rove’s playbook, attacked Obama’s rather obvious statement about working-class voters (while also demeaning our hometown), and is now benefiting from Rush Limbaugh’s cynical effort to hurt Democrats.

Again, it has nothing to do with the fact that Clinton cannot win. Mike Huckabee stayed in the Republican nomination fight for weeks – despite the fact that he kept on losing most states to McCain, and it became increasingly obvious that he was not going to prevail. But Huckabee ran a positive campaign that focused on his evangelical Christian views – a large constituency within the Republican Party – and he did not use the spotlight of a national campaign to smear the front-runner. By the time he dropped out on March 4th, John McCain was able to unite the party together and move on.

While Obama handles one desperate attack after another, it is Hillary Clinton’s reputation that has been tarnished the most. A new Washington Post poll finds that only 39% of Americans view her as “honest and trustworthy” – whereas 52% said the same about her in May 2006. Her “unfavorable” ratings are dangerously high – while voters still view McCain as “favorable.” Obama’s favorables have also dipped due to Clinton’s attacks, but they don’t even come close to the hit she’s taken.

The “trust” factor is extremely problematic – because it affects how voters interpret what you say to them, and what kind of impact news events will have on your campaign. As I wrote way back in September (when Clinton was far ahead in the polls), a presidential candidate “can tout their resume to boost ‘experience,’ their platform to project ‘change,’ and good poll numbers to push ‘electability.’ But there isn’t much they can do if they don’t have trust.”

So what are key advisers telling Hillary to do about her current situation? In an op-ed for yesterday’s Washington Post, ex-Clinton consultant Douglas Schoen suggested that she drive up Obama’s negatives even further. After commending Clinton for running a TV ad in Pennsylvania that attacks Obama’s “bitter” statement about working-class voters, Schoen said: “for Clinton to capture the nomination, she needs to completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama.”

Is he crazy? Clinton was doing well for much of last year when she ran a positive campaign that touted the historic nature of electing the first woman president – and cited her years of experience to be “the best agent for change.” I never bought it for a second, but many Democrats did. You can’t look at her nasty, mud-slinging attacks on Obama and conclude that she has come out of it looking good.

The Washington Post disclosed at the bottom of Schoen’s op-ed that he was a Clinton White House advisor from 1994 to 2000. What they failed to mention is that he’s also the business partner of the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland – as in Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s despicable union-busting consultant – who was demoted (but not fired) after moonlighting for the Colombian ambassador on a trade deal.

Another of Mark Penn’s top business partners is Charlie Black – the top political adviser of John McCain’s presidential campaign. It’s not hard to connect the dots between who’s giving Clinton advice to drive up Obama’s negatives – and what agendas these people have about who gets elected President. If I were a Clinton supporter, I would be disgusted and outraged that my candidate was running such a campaign.

Clinton’s campaign must come to a close – not because she can’t win, but because her kamikaze tactics are doing nothing to help the Democratic cause. She’s become an engine for the right-wing noise machine’s agenda to tear down Barack Obama in the general election, and is facilitating their work every day that she stays in the race. To be perfectly blunt, Hillary Clinton owes every feminist who poured their heart into her campaign to elect the first woman president a deep and sincere apology.

And then she needs to endorse Obama so we can move on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In his spare time and outside of regular work hours, Paul Hogarth volunteered on Obama’s field operation in San Francisco. He also ran to be an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

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