A picture is starting to emerge of how the Clinton campaign might move at the Democratic convention in its uphill battle for the nomination, and it is not a pretty one. In fact, it is so bare-knuckled and low-ball that it is not implausible to imagine it rupturing the Party.
To see the picture, you have to put together two reports, one by a Washington insider and another by a grassroots activist in Texas.
First, the view from DC. If David Paul Kuhn of The Politico is correct, there are not one but two terrains in which a convention battle would play out. We all know that neither candidate will win outright, and that the winning margin will have to be provided by superdelegates, who are therefore being lobbied vigorously.
But there is a second terrain that is much less known, which is the convention Credentials Committee. Clinton may decide to take the battle over the Michigan and Florida primaries directly to the Credentials Committee. You thought the tussle over those two states was over? Well guess again. "I have no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan," she told the Washington Post. "And if we don't resolve it, we'll resolve it at the convention -- that's what credentials committees are for."
Kuhn anticipates Clinton would move to seat the delegations from those states as they are, with no re-vote or any sort of adjustment to the totals that were tallied when Obama was either not on the ballot (Michigan) or not campaigning at the Party's behest (Florida). Remember that she fought tooth and nail to have those states vote again, knowing that with Obama actively campaigning this time, the results would likely be closer than they were when he was not, but still hoping she would win. Her campaign was so anxious to achieve this outcome that her supporters were willing to raise millions of dollars to pay for the elections. So if she can seat the original delegations with an even bigger margin in her favor without having to do the elections over or raise any money, it would be quite a coup.
Her first option would be to get the Credentials Committee to issue a "majority report" to the convention floor, which would result in a floor vote of the whole convention on whether to seat Michigan and Florida. The precise rules of the Credentials Committee are apparently Byzantine even to Party hacks, but it seems highly unlikely she could pull this off. However, she already has enough votes on the Credentials Committee to push through a "minority report." In the case of the Committee issuing both majority and minority reports, there would have be two votes on the convention floor, one to seat Michigan and Florida, and the other not to. In other words, there would be a floor fight over who gets seated at the convention.
OK. That's part one. You can read Kuhn's analysis here.
So what would a floor fight over credentials featuring the campaign of Hillary Clinton look like? Do you really want to know? Credential fights are notoriously nasty, because they immediately become a personal affront to everyone involved, who feel that their very right to be in their party is being challenged, something akin to a constitutional crisis for a party. There was a preview this past weekend at the Democratic county conventions in Texas. Here is a report from an Obama delegate named Melody Townsel:
My credentials were challenged. Along with the credentials of a large swath of the elected delegates.
After six or so extremely hot, crowded, confusing hours, many of us were unable to determine why, exactly, our credentials had been challenged. The Clinton camp had announced that they were targeting the 23rd district for credentials challenges and, by god, that's what they did.
By the end, the Clinton folks were willing -- hell, eager -- to throw out not just random individuals but the entire delegation of 2 precincts. (So much for voter enfranchisement, eh, Hills?)
The protest process was tailor-made for alienating committed voters, wearing them out to the point where they would drop out. By the end of the night, the convention floor was abuzz with tired, pissed-off voters who now hate Hillary with the fire of a thousand suns.
I'm one of them. Thanks for sucking those 10 or so hours away from me, Hills. Love ya. Mean it.
In the end, the Hillary camp did successfully win challenges on 22 delegates. Out of a total of 2,650. When the announcement came, we calculated that the 10-hour delay of the start of our convention averaged roughly a successful challenge only every 30 minutes.
To get what s going on here, it helps to know that Obama won the district in question by more than 80%!
In case you think Melody might be exaggerating, see this letter posted on AmeriBlog:
My mom was a delegate in Dallas this past weekend. She arrived at 7AM and didn't get to leave until 8PM. She said that it appeared the Clinton delegates were trying to drag things out so long that people would have to leave. She thought they challenged about 3,000 delegates and each of them had to go through the credentialing committee.
One of the Clinton delegates from her group challenged the validity of entire precincts. One of the precincts she challenged was almost entirely African American. Towards the end, after this group was credentialed they came by and shook their fists at the Clinton delegate and chanted "we're still here" in her face. My mom said it was a little tense.
She also said that it was sad to see all of the elderly there having to sit in stadium seats for 13 hours. She didn't know of anyone leaving without an alternate to replace them though. A very pregnant woman in her group had to lie on the concrete floor at times.
Or we can skip the blogs and go to the Dallas Morning News, which reports that
just registering delegates took hours at some conventions. At large conventions in Houston, Dallas and Austin, which lasted into the night, arguments erupted and confusion set in as complaints were lodged about the legitimacy of some delegates.
Hundreds of increasingly irritable and bored delegates at the Senate District 23 convention in Dallas stood in lines snaking around four hallways as they waited to receive a delegate credential. Police kept people from jumping out of turn. Several called the process "chaos."
I happen to know that something very similar happened in Nevada at the state convention there. This was not reported in the national media, which makes me wonder where else it is happening, places I don't have friends reporting to me when the national media is not.
Here is a sobering thought worth careful consideration: if the above is what happened when the Clinton campaign went to war over credentials in county conventions in Texas, imagine what it will look like at the national convention. In Texas. In front of world television. With the nomination on the line.
As an aid in visualizing this scenario, think back to the last time there was a credentials battle at a Democratic Convention. That was 1964, when there was a battle over which of two delegations from Mississippi to seat, a segregationist slate or the competing civil rights slate. Many of you probably remember this controversy because at some point you saw the video history of the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize.
Now ask yourself what it would look like if, after the whole sordid history of Jim Crow, segregation, and voting rights, a black man who had won the popular vote and had the most delegates was denied the nomination because of a maneuver in a "smoke-filled room" over which delegates got seated.
A while ago, I posted a blog in which I noted the parallels between the current situation and the historic split between abolitionists and key white woman suffrage activists after the Civil War. Events are showing this comparison to be worthy of consideration. The damage this time around could be even more costly.