Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why Is Hillary Clinton Trying to Seat the Florida and Michigan Delegates?

If Hillary Clinton has enough committed delegates, pledged and super-, to win going into the Democratic convention, she’s already won. She doesn’t need the Florida and Michigan delegates, and they will be seated without protest in a happy family reunion, as it were. On the other hand, if she thinks that she doesn’t have enough votes to prevail, she will have to force a vote to enfranchise the F-M delegates. She’ll win that floor vote only if enough uncommitted super-delegates plus John Edwards’ 26 pledged delegates vote with her committed delegates to enfranchise them. But that would mean that she doesn’t need the F-M votes in the first place, since she commands majority support without them. Of course she could theoretically force the convention to seat the F-M delegates by court order, but then she would have no chance of winning the runoff against John McCain. And even that far-fetched scenario assumes that such an action wouldn’t touch off a massive defection of super-delegates to Mr. Obama that would throw the nomination his way in the first place.

So there doesn’t seem to be any remotely plausible scenario under which the F-M votes can actually affect the outcome in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. In fact, her quest for their enfranchisement seems to be undermining her credibility as a presidential candidate. It’s worse than cheating; it’s stupid. It doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

If I remember correctly, the Clinton team began talking about this just before the January 29 Florida primaries. My guess was that it intended to influence the Florida voters, so that it could play it up as a Clinton victory and build momentum going into Super (Duper) Tuesday on February 5. I have no idea whether or not it had any impact. But the long-term implications are clear, and it does not bode well for Mrs. Clinton.

Unfortunately for her candidacy, there is no way that her team can back away from it without further compromising her integrity. She made a bet with little upside and significant downside, and lost. It’s yet another manifestation of the lack of imagination and the reactivity that have dogged her increasingly beleaguered campaign.

The only serious error here is that I:

a) didn’t bother to look into his pre-law school work as a community organizer and therefore failed completely to anticipate his skills as a manager (this kind of talk seems to be surfacing more often now); and

b) weaseled out when I wrote that “there are the guys, like Barack Obama, who can make grown-up men lose it.” I should, of course, have written, “…. make grown men pee in their pants.” I hope he doesn’t misuse this knack. For example, he doesn’t really mean everything he says about trade issues, does he?


Anonymous said...


Let's hope he doesn't mean everything he says about trade. But even if he does, with a Congress controlled by the Democrats, TPA isn't going to be renewed and that is all that matters, really, regardless of the next administration's stance on trade.

Of course, that only means that there wouldn't be any forward movement on trade, i.e. new FTAs or completion of Doha. The question, then, is whether the next President can reverse course. I had a number of meetings in Washington in December on this very topic and while most of the people I spoke with were pessimistic about progress under whoever succeeds Bush, no one thought his trade accomplishments could be undone without a long, drawn out battle.


Janne Morén said...

To be fair, there is a third possibility. She could argue to delegates that "No, you're not going vote for me; you're voting for my opponent. But as a matter of basic fairness, representatives of all states should have a voice whether their local leaders behaved stupidly or not."

It'd still be sleazy, underhanded, despicable and reason enough to sit out the general election would she be elected candidate. But it would avoid the catch-22 you describe above.

Jun Okumura said...


Thanks for the timely and thoughtful input.

The broader picture that you depict is actually not that bad for countries that are already fully plugged into the global economy. I think that an inconclusive and to the Doha Round itself is far less consequential than people with a personal stake in its outcome (or merely talking up the process) like to believe.

Having said that, abandoning the LatAm FTAs in the pipeline will not be a happy event for some regimes there that have enough troubles as is.

Beyond the TPA, there is room in the US for changes in other trade-related areas like CEFIUS, which could lead to some backlash from countries that are affected. This particular example is not part of Mr. Obama's explicit agenda. However, a Democratic Congress could still push any Democratic president (or John McCain, of course) to tighten current practices. That will be far from the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, but it dovetails nicely with the controversy over sovereign wealth funds. So that's something else to worry about on the trade front.

Jun Okumura said...


I'm sorry, it may be my hangover, but I don't understand what you mean when you say, "representatives of all states should have a voice whether their local leaders behaved stupidly or not." So you'l have to allow me to refrain from commenting, unless you rephrase it, or someone else explains it for me.

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Jun Okumura said...

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Janne Morén said...

Let me rephrase: She could argue that delegates, both her and Obamas, should support seating the Florida and Michigan delegates as a matter of principle. That stripping two states of their delegates is basically unfair and punishing the general electorate for a decision (moving up the primaries) they effectively had no hand in.

As it happens, I don't agree with that argument; I think it is perfectly fair. But that argument would effectively move the issue away from who they would vote for and into a murkier moral realm of fairness and due representation.

Jun Okumura said...

I get it now, Janne. Thanks. That is, in fact, the underlying premise of the argument that the Clinton people are making. And you are right, that does bring it into the “murkier moral realm of fairness and due representation.” I trust that most people not committed to Mrs. Clinton will find it self-evidently ridiculous and destructive, though. I think that the Obama side is not making too big a deal about it precisely because it realizes that it is counterproductive for the Clinton side and, besides, as I argue, it has almost no chance of affecting the outcome anyway.

For people who, unlike you and I, agree with the Clinton line of argument, I have the following thought experiment:

Assume that it is the presidential election, the real thing, and Michigan and Florida, in defiance of federal election law, decide that they will vote in the week before the rest of the nation does and announce the results immediately. Would any people in their right minds argue that the Michigan and Florida electoral votes should count anyway? Michigan and Florida residents must live with the consequences of their representatives, the state legislatures and the governor. There is a near-perfect analogy between this hypothetical example and the primaries with regard to the members of the respective parties and their representatives - in this case the state party committees.

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Jun Okumura said...

Hmm, #58 doesn't give the real reason white guys come to Japan.