THE BLOG

The Day Hillary Clinton Knew She Had Lost

03/21/2008 04:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton was back in Michigan, a full two months after its "primary," pleading with the state legislature to allow a revote in the state. As she stood in downtown Detroit, it was becoming increasingly clear that there would be no do-over and she looked for the first time as if she realized she had lost, in that typically defiant "I'll-drag-you-all-down-with-me" Clinton way. After all, she had staked whatever little she had left on a revote in a state in which fully 40% of the Democratic voters showed up on a cold January day to vote Uncommitted (ie, anyone but Clinton, the only name on the ballot), in which the most recent public polling shows her in a dead heat with Barack Obama, and where she had firmly backed the "disenfranchisement" she was now decrying. And even this slender straw of a revote was denied her: the extent of the despair is plain.

Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee because she will not be able to erase Obama's delegate lead. And she will not be able to gain enough delegates because Democratic primary voters nationwide have decided that they prefer Obama as their candidate in the general election. It isn't more complicated than that, despite the Clintons' grotesque attempts at changing the rules, masking the truth and comfortably living up to their reputation for lacking trustworthiness.

Even in the worst week of his campaign, Obama has actually increased his lead over Clinton in national polls, according to Real Clear Politics, the standard in the matter. There are states in which the Clintons' relentless baiting of race, gender and, now, patriotism has taken its toll, at least in the short term: Ohio and Missouri, for instance, are less likely to vote for Obama now than they were a couple of weeks ago. It won't be clear until November if this is a short-term effect, or a more in depth problem; either way, that is the Clintons' legacy, once again: making it harder for Democrats other than themselves to gain power, whether in the Congress in the 1990s, or in this year's presidential election. There are other states in which Clinton's assault has made no difference whatsoever, or even hurt her more than him: in California and in New York, for instance, where in the latter Obama now leads McCain by a larger margin than she does (despite the fact she is a Senator from the state).

Since February 5, 62 superdelegates have endorsed Obama, and only a handful have endorsed Clinton (more have switched to him than have newly endorsed her): it's safe to say that superdelegates are not the path to victory for Clinton, despite her campaign's best efforts to spook them with the specter of GOP religious and racial warfare against Obama in November.

Despite a core group of financial backers who stepped in to try to buy a Michigan revote, Clinton cannot be rolling in cash right now and she is weeks away from her likely next victory, in Pennsylvania, the only event that could prompt any significant money bump. Any day now, she may have to reach into her family's deepening pockets, probably right around the time when they are set to release their presumably cloudy tax returns. It all feels very moot.

In retrospect, it is amazing that New Hampshire, which Clinton won by one of the narrowest margins of any state in this year's primaries, was the highlight of her campaign. Certainly it was an improvement on her dismal third place in Iowa, but after Jan 8, it was downhill, with a trouncing in South Carolina and the 21 other states that Obama won by 20+% margins. That she has been able to stay in the race at all is a testament to the power of the Clinton name, the Democratic Party's ludicrous electoral system, and her hold over a petrified media and the party's bureaucratic elite.

Bill Richardson's endorsement of Obama this week was more than another blow, as he ignored his history with the Clintons, as well as reminders of past favors owed. How long before John Edwards, Al Gore, et al, follow suit, or risk being blamed for the further disintegration of the party they owe so much to? Nancy Pelosi has all but thrown her lot in with Obama, but a formal endorsement would be appropriate at this time.

Not being a politician, let alone a Clinton, it's hard to see what makes her stay in the race at this point. She appears somewhat less willing than her husband to alienate entire segments of the party, including many of the Congressional colleagues whose collegiality and support she will need soon enough. Perhaps like Bill, though, she has something to prove to her spouse: he needs to show he cares, and she needs to show that she can win. But shouldn't that be something for them to work out alone, without the future of the Democratic Party, of the U.S. government, and of the country itself at stake?