Why won’t Hillary just concede that she has lost and pull out of the race? Why does she persist in keeping her delegates in line for her and not releasing them to Obama? Why does she feign party unity while, in fact, undermining it?
The Clintons never do anything without a lot of thinking and planning. There is no benign explanation for her maneuvers. They have several options that they are deliberately keeping open by their increasingly awkward positioning. Here’s what they’re up to:
1. The Obama Stumbles Option
As Hillary says, June is “early” in politics when the convention is not to be held until the end of August, unusually late for a Democratic conclave. And, as Tip O’Neill says “a week is a long time in politics.” So is three months.
Rumors abound about incriminating material on Obama, the potential for misstep is amplified now that he adjusts to a new task of taking on McCain, who knows how many other preachers there are in the closet? Hillary’s skilled force of private detectives, who we once called the secret police, are doubtless diving into garbage dumpsters all over America to come up with whatever they can.
Hillary wants to be there to exploit any mistakes. She will be watching and waiting. Suppose Obama flubs a line on the campaign trail or damaging material emerges from the Rezko prosecution? Hillary will indicate her continued availability as an alternative. Remember that superdelegates can change their minds anytime they want to. Now they are leaving Hillary to back Obama, the winner, but they could easily go the other way. By not releasing her pledged delegates, she remains within striking distance of the nomination if an Obama faux pas leads to an exodus of superdelegates from his camp.
By remaining a force at the convention, Hillary might be in a position to bail out a faltering Obama campaign by going on the ticket. There is no love lost between the two candidates. Hillary knows that Obama will not choose her voluntarily as his running mate. But if Obama falters, he might just need the shot in the arm Hillary would represent. By remaining in the shadows as a potential threat to wrest away the nomination, she might leverage her position to make Obama put her on the ticket.
She wants to be VP in case Obama loses so she can be positioned for 2012 and in case he wins so she can shoot for the stars in 2016. And, she doesn’t want anyone else to have the job so as not to create a potential rival.
3. The I Told You So Option
By remaining viable and keeping her delegates, Hillary stays in play through the convention. Her aides and associates can be counted on to dump on Obama subtly and, often, anonymously, as he moves forward. If Obama loses the election, and did not take her on his ticket, she can run as the “I told you so” candidate in 2012, much as Ronald Reagan capitalized on Gerald Ford’s defeat in 1976, after Reagan had unsuccessfully sought the nomination, to bolster his credentials in 1980.
4. Paying Off Her Debts
By staying, at least partially, in the game, Hillary can continue to raise money and pay off her debts. And she can hold out a bargaining position to force Obama to do more and more to help her to raise money. Debts to her vendors are one thing. She can always raise funds to pay them off in the future. But the election law makes it illegal for her to pay herself back any sum above $250,000 after the Democratic Convention. Since she has lent her campaign at least $11 million, she wants to get as much of it back as possible before the convention deadline.
Hillary may set her candidacy aside for the moment. But her fortunes will continue to rise and fall inversely with Obama’s. Should he hit a rough patch, Hillary’s numbers are bound to improve, strengthening her bargaining position for funds or for the VP slot or, possibly giving her enough momentum to reopen the contest.
That’s her game.