Salena Zito

On a hot summer night in July 1980, an unorthodox idea floated around the halls of the Republican National Convention in Detroit.

Started by the party’s “Howard Baker wing,” the buzz suggested it would be a good idea for the GOP to have nominee Ronald Reagan pick former President Gerald Ford as his running mate.

To the Baker wing, that would solve their perception of Reagan being too conservative to win and would bring a fractured party together.

But the former president would have none of it. Ford was no fan of Reagan; he blamed Reagan for losing his re-election bid in 1976. His answer to the proposal was one he knew would never fly -- a “co-presidency.” He was right and, within 24 hours, the idea was headed for the political history books.

Leap forward 28 years, and you have Hillary Clinton chugging along with a clear path to the Democratic National Convention but not to the Democrat nomination -- provoking plenty of talk of conjoining her with Barack Obama to “heal” the party.

Political parties do amusing things when faced with the perception that their team is in trouble. Certainly there is plenty of rumbling that the Democrats’ never-ending primary will blunt any goodwill they have earned since the 2006 midterm elections.

This is why you saw Clinton’s political obituary being written a thousand times over since Tuesday night by elected Democrats and Obama-loving journalists alike. Her thumping in North Carolina and her narrow win in Indiana gave them the license they believed they needed to show her the door.

Fair enough. Say the Illinois senator is the nominee. How does he unite his wing of the party (blacks, young people and educated, latte-drinking, elite liberals) with Clinton’s wing (whites, women, Hispanics and lunch-pail Democrats)?

To “heal,” does Obama need to conjoin with Clinton?

Former longtime John McCain adviser John Weaver says that whether Obama and Clinton form a ticket or not, “coming together” will not be a problem for Democrats in November.

“Expect to see a unity lap around the country at some appropriate time by Obama and Clinton -- it will happen,” he predicts.

Ever practical, Weaver says Democrats, “in a ‘change’ election, in a probable recession, with an unpopular incumbent Republican president, with an unpopular war, will be united.”

His thoughts are predicated on an inevitable Obama nomination -- but there is always the haunting reality that Clinton just can’t quit this race.

Clinton is, by her very nature, a “Clinton” -- and Clintons don’t get forced out of anything. History and behavior patterns prove that. So even a scenario of having the Democrats’ wise men or leagues of superdelegates knock on her door to force her out might not happen -- at least not publicly.

If Clinton decides to quit, it will be on a high note, after a win in West Virginia or Kentucky, with Bill and Chelsea at her side and a pledge to help elect the next president, Barack Obama. Not forced, kicking and screaming, but graciously.

Former Democratic National Committee executive director Mark Siegel concurs: “The process to the nomination will come probably to a conclusion, if not in West Virginia, then in Kentucky or Oregon, then certainly no later than the third of June.

“The brutality of the nominating fight will make the reconciliation that much more powerful,” says Siegel, who holds a doctorate in delegate math.

He says Democrats have weathered the roughest period of the campaign and are about to shift into general-election campaign mode: “The primary season was bitter, like a lemon. The summer and the convention will be sweet, like lemonade.”

Another Democrat strategist not working on either campaign privately disputes that sugary assumption. Clinton “still has the credentials meeting on May 31 that could force the seating of Michigan and Florida” delegations, this strategist says.

Clinton can make a case to stay in the race until the convention.

But, like Gerald Ford on that hot summer night in 1980, she’s not likely to consider a conjoined ticket.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.