Sunday, May 1 (May Day):
CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Tapper interviewing Secretary Clinton, established two points. First, in spite of polls showing widespread doubt about Clinton’s honesty, Clinton still tends to make recklessly inaccurate statements in public venues. Second, Clinton and strategist Karen Finney suggested no particular place for Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic national convention. They offered no specific suggestions as to how Sanders delegates might contribute.
To the first point, this pick-up line from Clinton:
“There comes a time when you have to look at the [realities],” Clinton said. “In fact, in ’08 I was much closer in both popular vote and pledged delegates to Sen. Obama than is the case right now, but eventually I just decided that I had to withdraw and support Sen. Obama because the goal was to make sure we had a Democrat in the White House.”
Tapper had asked Clinton whether she was the presumptive nominee, as Trump styles himself. She demurred but said appropriately that she is on the path to the nomination.
But leaving behind the appropriate and dignified, again to the fore comes Clinton’s compulsion to overreach. It wasn’t enough for her just to tell Tapper that she was ahead, and that she hoped for party unity. Asked about the 2008 campaign, she had to rewrite history. In actual fact, Clinton did not ‘withdraw’ from the 2008 Democratic primary until June. In fact, she did not withdraw; she lost. The comments below from National Public Radio on June 5, 2008, are representative:
“From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Robert Siegel.
This Saturday, Hillary Clinton will concede – maybe. She’s expected to congratulate Barack Obama on winning the Democratic nomination. But there have been mixed messages from Clinton’s campaign and she is not planning to release her delegates.
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON: Senator Clinton’s behavior since Obama clinched the nomination has some of her strongest supporters worried that she is undermining Obama at a historic moment that should be his to savor. Congressman Charlie Rangel is the dean of Clinton’s own state delegation in the House.
Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): The New York congressional delegation are with her to the end, but we thought the end was the end.
LIASSON: The end Rangel meant was Tuesday night [June 3, 2008], when Clinton delivered what many Democrats are calling her less-than-gracious non-concession speech. To give you an idea how much anguish this has caused even her most loyal supporters, listen to Bill Galston, a former top aide in Bill Clinton’s White House.
Mr. BILL GALSTON: I was an early supporter and remain supportive of her candidacy as long – as long as there – the candidacy was at stake. Having said that – how to put this? This is really hard for me. She’s not doing either herself or Senator Obama any favors.”
The issue in 2008 went beyond a less-than-gracious concession speech. As previously written, one Clinton campaign tactics in 2008 was to keep referencing the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as proof that anything can happen in an election.
It can hardly be expected that Clinton would bring up that issue in a Sunday morning interview. Still, she could have refrained from egregious distortion.
Other parts of Clinton’s statement above may be more colorable but also are problematic. The timeline of the 2008 election shows that on May 1, 2008, Sen. Clinton did indeed have more delegates than Bernie Sanders has now. However, she also had to lend her campaign $1 million of her own money. (On April 29, she had come on ABC saber-rattling against Iran.) A few days later (May 5) she lent her campaign another $425K.
The first week of May was big in 2008. On May 5, Clinton’s campaign argued that the total needed to win nomination should be 200 additional delegates, an attempt to move the goalposts. On May 7, Clinton reminded audiences about the killing of RFK in 1968 once in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and once in Washington, D.C. (There is no evidence that the times recorded are the only occasions Clinton used this talking point. It was and is a delicate item for reporters.) On May 8, she told USA Today that “Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening.” She later walked back the comment. She is now walking back her “off the reservation” comment about Trump or others, used as the tease by CNN this morning.
Less colorful but also problematic
Other statements Clinton and her strategist Karen Finney, in today’s CNN round table, could raise concern. Clinton said early, in response to questions about working with Sanders, that she looks forward to working with Sanders “in the lead-up to the convention” and “in the lead-up to the platform.” If this phrasing was more carefully chosen than some of her other comments, it does not suggest much place for Senator Sanders and his delegates in Philadelphia.
In the CNN round table, Sanders strategist Jeff Weaver reiterated that Sanders will stay in the race until the Democratic convention. Finney’s comments paralleled Clinton’s. While making nice to Sanders in general terms, Finney refrained from specifics. She referred to “conversations” with Sanders about “what he thinks is important for the platform.” Finney suggested that Clinton agrees with Sanders broadly on his positions, or some positions, but has different approaches as to “how we get there.”
None of this raises hope that Sanders supporters will be part of the national conversation, from the perspective of the Clinton campaign in 2016.
Back to the “I just decided I had to withdraw” line —
Clinton’s insistence on rewriting history is the more baffling for being so unnecessary. Virtually any candidate could have put the same thing better. A witty, self-deprecating Barack Obama or Jack Kennedy might have made a joke out of it. “Eventually, after going down [xxx] delegates after that last primary, I just decided to withdraw. Primaries aren’t everything.”
Something along those lines. But for Hillary Clinton, the way to sum up the 2008 primary–which she lost decisively–is with an insinuation that she withdrew voluntarily. There was no follow-up question about ’08.
Yet the Clinton allies fret about media coverage, and about that persistent perception of untruthfulness.
[Edited slightly from morning post]