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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

Democrats: No Good Scenarios Left?

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The last set of positive scenarios for the Democratic Party is disappearing, leaving a series of increasingly unattractive options in its place. The Party is at risk of becoming collateral damage in the Clinton campaign's war for the nomination. If the Clinton team has found a pathway to the nomination that won't decimate the Party's chances in November, now would be a good time to share it.

It may not be enough just to persuade superdelegates to overrule the primary process and vote for her. Since the arithmetic's overwhelmingly against her, she may also need to convince the party to seat Michigan and Florida's ill-gotten delegates.

The only way that's not a complete disaster for the party is if a) Obama avoids going negative against her in response to her slash-and-burn tactics of the past week, b) she wins Pennsylvania and the horsetrading takes place immediately thereafter, and c) Obama is persuaded to abide by (and actively endorse) that deal by accepting the VP slot. Even so, a number of currently-mobilized volunteers could well be disillusioned and withdraw from the process.

And how likely is that scenario, anyway? Not very. Obama's already turning up the campaign rhetoric, so we're going to have two more weeks or more of the two remaining candidates slashing away at each other while McCain plays elder statesman. Clinton's negative tactics paid off for her personally this week, but at tremendous cost to the party. If Obama wins the nomination now, the Republicans will have heavy artillery to use against him -- artillery built and hand-delivered by Sen. Clinton and her campaign.

Now Obama will respond, as he must to stay in the race. That will provide heavy artillery for McCain to use should Clinton become the nominee. It's unlikely that Obama will concede to Hillary and join her ticket, even if she wins Pennsylvania, if -- as is likely -- he continues to hold leads in both pledged delegates and votes.

So the race will probably go on through August unless Clinton suffers a decisive loss in Pennsylvania. Unless that happens -- which isn't the way it looks now -- a 'cascading failure' scenario kicks in, with two candidates continue to fracture the party and damage each other until the convention.

The best of all possible outcomes at that point would be for Obama to win the nomination at the convention (or shortly beforehand.) He will be damaged by her tactics, but at least he can enter the general election with a legitimate nomination. The only possible way Clinton can get the nomination after the "cascading failure" point is by clearly overruling the primary process as laid out by the party.

The historical analogies used by some Clinton supporters to justify the superdelegates-overruling-the-primaries scenario (repeated here) don't hold water. That was then, this is now. Those nominations all took place before the party undertook reforms to ensure that the Democratic candidate reflected the popular will of the Party. Democrats today expect no less. A nominee whose selection overrules the primary process and is seen as a back-room maneuver will divide the party, demoralize its activists, and alienate an entire generation from political activism. And while I initially dismissed the more apocalyptic scenarios, a piece like this one leaves me less sure they couldn't happen -- and in any event these discussions certainly reflect the level of anger and disaffection that would be felt if these tactics were to hand Clinton the nomination.

The Party has already sustained serious damage as a result of Clinton's campaign decisions of the last week. There is no way to undo that. The question is how deep and how lasting the damage will be. Under this battle is ended in Pennsylvania, the wounds may well prove lethal. And the only scenario for ending this in Pennsylvania is a decisive Obama victory.

This week was a decisive win for two interested parties: the Republicans and the press. The GOP benefits from a self-destructing party whose two leading candidates continue to wound each other for weeks and months to come. The press benefits by having the horserace continue as long as possible between the woman and the black man. It's a great story. Anyone who thinks the press is "in the tank" for Obama - or Hillary - should understand that they're only in the tank for this: a good story, at any cost.

There are those who will argue that I'm not looking at this process objectively. Fine, then you tell me -- realistically -- how Sen. Clinton can win without overruling the primary process and therefore causing significant harm.

If there is any scenario for her continued candidacy that grants her victory and doesn't gravely damage Democratic chances, it's incumbent upon Sen. Clinton to tell us what it is. Otherwise the Party's sole goal should be to end her campaign as quickly as possible, before any more harm is done. How likely is that? Not very. That leaves the party with a probability of victory in November that diminishes with each passing week between now and August, unless a decisive victory brings an end to to the conflict.