Clinton’s “Formal Talks”

  • Share
  • Read Later

CNN is reporting, and the blogs are amplifying, that Clinton and Obama are in “formal talks” about her coming onto the ticket as the VP. That there are talks happening may well be true, but the chatter I’m hearing these days is that Hillary does not want the job. Taking it would repudiate all of the arguments she’s made for why she should be at the top of the ticket, and it would be a substantially less powerful role than the one she could play as Senate Majority Leader. Sure, it’s been reported that Bill is for it (Yeah, when’s the last time that guy had a good idea?), but my sense is that all the Clinton allies talking it up at this point are doing so mainly out of wounded pride and not out of any real sense that Hillary being on the ticket is a good idea. The petulant language they use is striking: “There’s talks of vice presidency, and the Clinton sources say there would be ‘civil war’ in the party if she wasn’t offered the job,” and “But there’s a risk that if she isn’t invited on the ticket, Hillary’s political and financial supporters may not feel compelled to be as integrated and involved in the Obama campaign;” these are not strategic or even political arguments, they’re emotional ones. (“May not feel compelled” is particularly passive aggressive.)

What’s more, for all the talk of how important McCain’s VP choice is, it’s Obama whose fortunes vary the widest when matched with a running mate against McCain. There’s not a lot of polling done on this just yet, but Survey USA asked about a range of hypotheticals in Pennsylvania (weirdly, sans Clinton), and found that Obama’s polling swung around wildly (from 52 to 40), whereas McCain stayed rather solidly around 40 no matter who he was matched with. I mean, McCain still lost most of the time, but that amplitude in Obama’s number suggests that the right choice helps him tremendously and a wrong choice hurts him just as much. This is not a decision that the Obama team can let hinge on pride or even “party unity,”* and I don’t think they will.

* The idea that a significant portion of Democrats will actually either sit out the race or vote for McCain if she doesn’t get on the ticket is somewhat supported by polling but not by history or common sense. And not even the McCain people really believe it. What’s more, Clinton has almost total control over the context around her absence from the ticket. She can cast it as a mutual decision to put together the best combination of strengths possible, she can cast it as a selfish move by an upstart ignorant of her tremendous importance — one of those arguments will motivate her supporters to vote for the guy despite sore feelings, one of them won’t.

UPDATE: And apparently those talks aren’t really happening after all — though I’m sure we have another few weeks of heated speculation to wait through anyway.