I said it almost three months ago: After Barack Obama's delegate-hogging blowouts through the month of February, there was no way Hillary Clinton could still become president. Sure, she's performed better than I expected in the post-February states. I always thought (as the Obama campaign thought) that she would lose Indiana. But her win there was ephemeral and will net her one (1) extra delegate, and it came after public and internal polls showed her winning another clear, thank-you-white-working-class-of-which-I-am-a-part victory of 5 to 10 points. Expectations ran away from the Clinton campaign. Today the pundits are discounting the squeaker win and saying, louder, what they've known since February.
Andrew Sullivan quotes the New York Times, assessing Obama's resilience under a monthlong scandal/negative storyline cloud, and jumps for joy.
Wright is a grenade that will fizzle. The right will try other gambits—the Ayers crap and if that doesn't work, look for them to take aim at Obama's wife. But Obama's survival—or rather the voters' refusal to make this election about the Freak Show—suggests that Newt is right. This will not work this year.
The Wright stuff, and a few other developments in the campaign, had me openly rooting against Clinton last night. There was a time at the start of the primaries when I credited Clinton for a more substantive campaign than Obama. When I saw Obama on the trail (I never caught a town hall, though West Virginia's not too far away…) his campaign would fabricate a rally that felt like the concert portion of an auto show. Hours early, voters would stream into the venue. They'd chatter and wave signs as the event got off to a late start. Obama would arrive and give a soaring, but warmed-over, speech of crescendos and promises and Mick Jagger moments. Then he'd leave. Clinton, on the other hand, would hustle in to a less-crowded event, give a short speech very long on policy, and start taking audience questions. Sometimes she'd get an odd one and answer it with a howler. But she was never uninformed.
This, we were told, was why Obama was winning and Clinton was losing. I thought that was unfair. Clinton's microtrendy town halls, her dull, wonky events, and her long debate answers seemed like the sort of stuff a candidate should do, and Obama's events and answers seemed like the stage-managed crap that lulls the electorate into electing a cypher.
That changed sometime after the February blowouts. Clinton's people looked at the numbers and saw which voters were sticking with them–which voters had moved to Obama, but could be snagged back. They saw whites with less income and less education. So they made a virtue out of that support. They retooled the campaign to go after them and to argue, implicitly, that to not do so, and to not win them, was rank elitism. This is what Noemie Emery found so appetizing about Clinton over the last leg of the campaign.
She is becoming a social conservative, a feminist form of George Bush. Against an opponent who shops for arugula, hangs out with ex-Weathermen, and says rural residents cling to guns and to God in unenlightened despair at their circumstances, she has rushed to the defense of religion and firearms, while knocking back shots of Crown Royal and beer. Her harsh, football-playing Republican father (the villain of the piece, against whom she rebelled in earlier takes on her story) has become a role model, a working class hero, whose name she evokes with great reverence. Any day now, she'll start talking Texan, and cutting the brush out in Chappaqua or at her posh mansion on Embassy Row.
Cultural feints like that were part of the strategy. The other part was dumb policy, like the "gas tax holiday" that Clinton spent the final week of Indiana/North Carolina pushing at events and on TV. I'm flabbergasted that it didn't work, but it didn't deserve to work. Coronation, 30-point-lead-era Clinton was comfortable enough to talk to voters like grown-ups.