With 10 straight losses and the latest trouncing in Wisconsin and Hawaii, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nose diving campaign is spiraling downward towards political oblivion.
At Clinton’s national campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, senior aides screamed and shouted into the early morning hours with one side urging the New York Senator and former First Lady to attack frontrunner Barack Obama without mercy and the other pushing her to be calm, collected and Presidential.
Either way is a long shot. Clinton’s campaign is all but over, drowning under a tsunami named Obama, her own mistakes and incredible screwups by her former President husband.
Newsweek’s Howard Fineman says Clinton campaign insiders tell him that chief strategist Mark Penn wants Hillary to pull out all the stops and attack Obama non-stop between now and the primaries in Texas and Ohio on March 4.
I’ve known Mark Penn for some 20 years. He and his former partner, Doug Schoen, worked for me as pollsters for our independent expenditures program when I ran the political programs division for the National Association of Realtors from 1987-92. His approach then, as it is now, was to attack without hesitation, take no prisoners and win by any means possible.
But I believe he and Clinton overplayed their hand with petty attacks against Obama in the past week – claiming plagiarism from a friend of the Illinois Senator who – it turned out – advised Obama to use the words in a speech to refute Clinton’s “words vs. solutions” approach.
Penn advised Clinton to ignore Obama’s victories in the Potomac primaries and again last night. In doing so, she went on stage and ignored the standard political tradition of conceding a primary election and congratulating the opponent. That decision cost Clinton valuable air time Tuesday night when the cable networks cut from the middle of her stump speech to cover Obama’s victory speech.
Mark doesn’t admit failure or defeat. Hillary Clinton’s enormous ego will not allow her to admit a mistake either. Penn believes their attacks against Obama helped keep his margin of victory below 60 percent in Wisconsin and he most likely will turn his candidate into a merciless attack machine.
Traditional political wisdom says that when your back is against the wall, you go negative. Clinton is out of options and she will probably follow Penn’s traditional political advice.
But this is not a traditional campaign. Obama’s rock-star personality has turned the race for the nomination into a happening, a phenomenon that ignores the rules and tramples tradition. Attempting to blunt his tremendous popularity with serious talk about experience and issues won’t work. Neither will attack ads.
Clinton still has a long-shot chance at a rebound but she can’t do it by following conventional political wisdom, assuming wisdom even exists in politics. She needs to muzzle her loose cannon husband and keep him off the campaign trail, assuming that is possible. She needs to sack Mark Penn, find a message and then stick to it.
If this campaign proves anything it is that comebacks also violate conventional political wisdom. John McCain’s resurrection from the political dead establishes that.
McCain jump started his campaign by sacking his strategists and his pollster. Clinton fired her campaign manager and deputy but still listens to Penn and pays him millions of dollars for the advice that drove her run for the Presidency from inevitable to impossible.
Clinton cannot claim to be a leader as long as she lets political hacks dump her campaign into the dustbin of history.