Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Gore Theory of Campaign '08

Joe Klein of Time 's got a theory that if things continue to deteriorate for the Democrats, with, for example, Barack Obama failing to decisively wrap up the campaign with some big final-lap wins, Al Gore could be the answer for the Democrats.

Klein notes that the month of April provides a key
decision timeframe:

It's the moment when pundits demand action—"Drop out, Hillary!"—and propound foolish theories. And so I'm rather embarrassed to admit that I'm slouching toward, well, a theory: if this race continues to slide downhill, the answer to the Democratic Party's dilemma may turn out to be Al Gore.

This April promises to be crueler than most. The two campaigns have started attacking each other with chainsaws, while the Republican John McCain is moving ahead in some national polls. At this point, Clinton can only win the nomination ugly: by superdelegates abandoning Obama and turning to her, in droves—not impossible, but not very likely either. Even if Clinton did overtake Obama, it would be very difficult for her to win the presidency: African Americans would never forgive her for "stealing" the nomination. They would simply stay home in November, as would the Obamista youth. (Although the former President is probably thinking: Yeah, but John McCain is a flagrantly flawed candidate too—I'd accept even a corrupted nomination and take my chances.)

Which is not to say that Clinton's candidacy is entirely without purpose now that she is pursuing a Republican-style race gambit, questioning Obama's 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah "God damn America" Wright. Democrats will soon learn how damaging that relationship might be in a general election. They'll also see if Obama has the gumption to bounce back, work hard—not just arena rallies for college kids but roundtables for the grizzled and unemployed in American Legion halls—and change the minds that have turned against him. The main reason superdelegates have not yet rallied round Obama is that the party is collectively holding its breath, waiting to see how he performs in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana.

He will probably do well enough to secure the nomination. But what if he tanks? What if he can't buy a white working-class vote? What if he loses all three states badly and continues to lose after that? I'd guess that the Democratic Party would still give him the nomination rather than turn to Clinton. But no one would be very happy—and a year that should have been an easy Democratic victory, given the state of the economy and the unpopularity of the incumbent, might slip away.

Which brings us back to Al Gore. Pish-tosh, you say, and you're probably right. But let's play a little. Let's say the elders of the Democratic Party decide, when the primaries end, that neither Obama nor Clinton is viable. Let's also assume—and this may be a real stretch—that such elders are strong and smart enough to act. All they'd have to do would be to convince a significant fraction of their superdelegate friends, maybe fewer than 100, to announce that they were taking a pass on the first ballot at the Denver convention, which would deny the 2,025 votes necessary to Obama or Clinton. What if they then approached Gore and asked him to be the nominee, for the good of the party—and suggested that he take Obama as his running mate? Of course, Obama would have to be a party to the deal and bring his 1,900 or so delegates along.

I played out that scenario with about a dozen prominent Democrats recently, from various sectors of the party, including both Obama and Clinton partisans. Most said it was extremely unlikely ... and a pretty interesting idea. A prominent fund raiser told me, "Gore-Obama is the ticket a lot of people wanted in the first place." A congressional Democrat told me, "This could be our way out of a mess." Others suggested Gore was painfully aware of his limitations as a candidate. "I don't know that he'd be interested, even if you handed it to him," said a Gore friend. Chances are, no one will hand it to him. The Democratic Party would have to be monumentally desperate come June. And yet ... is this scenario any more preposterous than the one that gave John McCain the Republican nomination? Yes, it's silly season. But this has been an exceptionally "silly" year.
It's Klein who's silly, along with all those Democratic Party insiders who say this is a good idea.

McCain won the nomination fair and square: He hung in and hustled, carrying his own bags at airports terminals in the run-up to New Hampshire.
He campaigned harder than any of the other candidates in the race. He stuck to his principles on the issues, like Iraq, and the GOP voters - with the exception of many base conservatives angered at McCain's apostasies - saw him as the rightful heir to the GOP nomination crown.

But what about Al Gore? What's he done?

Well, he's a rock star on the left, of course, something of a messiah himself, at least on global warming.

But he's damaged goods, as any political analyst worth his salt will tell you. If this year's already looking like a reprise of 1968, wait until the Dems nominate Gore. He's the Hubert Humphrey of the 21st century. His nomination will divide the party's base between the left's global warming ayatollahs and the "movement" activists who see Obama as the savior of antiwar, genuine "
progressive" politics.

Ultimately, a Gore nomination will show to the entire country that the Democratic primary process failed, that it resulted in a disenfranchised electorate - not only in Florida and Michigan - but around the nation, where primary and caucus goers poured the hearts out to choose the candidate of their choice.

Perhaps there'd be some pleasure in Gore securing a second chance, the opportunity to mount another run for the White House after his disastrous campaign in 2000, when he chose to run as a populist, abandoning perhaps the biggest advantage he had: The Clinton-Gore's record of considerable peace and prosperity.

No, Klein's not serious - he's silly, sure, but not serious.

The Democrats need to finish out the primary, and the superdelegates need to do the right thing, which, even with only a couple of more wins for Obama, will be to throw their weight behind the Illinois Senator.
He's the "one" this year, for good or ill, Jeremiah Wright or Samantha Power, be what may.

Anything else will make the '68 Chicago riots look like a hayride.

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