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Posted by on Jan 26, 2008 in Politics | 6 comments

Hillary Clinton: Changing The Rules On Florida And Michigan Delegates?

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First, there was former President Bill Clinton, upsetting some Democratic bigwigs who fear his unprecedented massive and aggressive presence in Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign could hurt party unity and chase away some voters. Now, here’s Hillary Clinton challenging the DNC, making what some consider a thinly-veiled pitch to get votes in Florida where Democrats agreed not to campaign — and possibly turn the Democratic convention into a bitterly divisive event.

The now clichéd comment referring to Vietnam combat is “to save a village you have to destroy it.” Have the Clintons decided to substitute the word “party” for “village?”

Perhaps…but perhaps not. In the end, it was likely that the delegates would be seated anyway.

But the keys to this controversy are (1) Hillary Clinton is willing to get ahead of the game and not play by the existing rules but set her own rules, (2) she is a skillful, adept and highly nimble political game player, (3) she is accentuating polarization within the Democratic Party itself on this issue… and is clearly ready to do whatever it takes to win the nomination.

A new raging controversy about Mrs. Clinton’s about-face over delegate seatings doesn’t bode well if it’s a close delegate count and these delegates win it for her (she is already ahead in Super Delegates so it may not come to that). But this also doesn’t signal a shift from the Bush/Karl Rove years of polarization and bitter partisan mobilization politics into a new era of national unity where consensus and reconciliation are perceived as virtues, rather than signs of wussy weakness.

The long respected political mantra “do whatever it takes” to win seems to be the overriding theme in this, boiled down best by Marc Ambinder:

Sen. Hillary Clinton pledged today to work to seat Florida and Michigan’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention, thereby negating the penalties meted out by the Democratic National Committee.

This is essentially an about-face from her earlier position.

It’s true that the party’s eventual nominee will essentially take over the operations of the DNC — and the DNConvention, so the pledge carries weight.

Clinton acknowledged that not all DNC members would be happy with her pledge and she insisted that she was abiding by an earlier vow not to campaign in Florida.

But Florida Democrats will find out about her kindly disposition through the media, and through the Florida Democratic Party, whose chair, Karen Thurman, thanked Clinton “for her support and commitment to the Sunshine State.”

How could that POSSIBLY influence the votes of Florida Democrats?

And here’s part of the comment Barack Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe:

When Senator Clinton was campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, she made it clear that states like Michigan and Florida that wouldn’t produce any delegates, ‘don’t count for anything.’ Now that Senator Clinton’s worried about losing the first Southern primary, she’s using Florida for her own political gain by trying to assign meaning to a contest that awards zero delegates and where no campaigning has occurred. Senator Clinton’s own campaign has repeatedly said that this is a ‘contest for delegates’, and Florida is a contest that offers zero. Whether it is Barack Obama’s record, her position on Social Security, or even the meaning of the Florida Primary, it seems like Hillary Clinton will do or say anything to win an election. When he is the nominee, Barack Obama will campaign vigorously in Florida and Michigan to put them in the Democratic column in 2008.

And that is now the Democrats’ dilemma:

(1) If the final delegate count is close (probably unlikely since Clinton is way ahead in the vital Super Delegates) and she wins the nomination this way there is no question a certain number of Democrats will stay home at the polls. Democrats and Republicans have both lost elections due to angry party members not voting. Would Obama’s youthful voter contingent go out of their way to vote for Clinton who “did what it took” to take it away from their candidate?

(2) The Democrats have long complained that they have been out-gunned in The Ruthlessness Department since the entrance of the late (in)famous Republican operative Lee Atwater under the first President George Bush. But the exception was in 1992 when Bill Clinton won with his famous “War Room” and a campaign outfitted to match or surpass the GOP ruthlessness machine.

If the idea is winning at all costs, will the Demmies in the end prefer to hold their noses and go with the person deemed tough enough to do anything to win? Or will they opt for Obama’s more mannerly approach and argument about the need not just to defeat and make political foes submit but to expand the Democrats’ winning coalition and decrease national polarization?

(Prediction: In the end, they’ll go for victory…) Hillary Clinton’s statement is HERE.

Here’s how it plays in the media via the AP. Note that they see the political vote-getting angle to this. She’s not “campaigning” but she’s “campaigning.”

It all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘campaigning” is:

In a bit of political theater, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Florida Democratic Party clamored to restore convention delegates that had been stripped by the national party.

At stake: 185 delegates in a state where Clinton leads almost 2-to-1.

The presidential candidate said Friday — just four days before Florida’s primary — that she wants the convention delegates from Florida and Michigan reinstated. The national party eliminated all the delegates from those states — more than 350 in all — because they broke party rules against holding their primaries before Feb. 5. All the major Democratic candidates also made pledges not to campaign in those states before their primaries.

Clinton could claim most of the Michigan delegates because she won that state’s primary after the other major candidates pulled their names from the ballot.

American Prospect’s Ezra Klein writes:

This is a very, very, very big deal….This is the sort of decision that has the potential to tear the party apart. In an attempt to retain some control over the process and keep the various states from accelerating their primaries into last Summer, the Democratic National Committee warned Michigan and Florida that if they insisted on advancing their primary debates, their delegates wouldn’t be seated and the campaigns would be asked not to participate in their primaries. This was agreed to by all parties (save, of course, the states themselves).

With no one campaigning, Clinton, of course, won Michigan — she was the only Democrat to be on the ballot, as I understand it, which is testament to the other campaign’s beliefs that the contest wouldn’t count — and will likely win Florida. And because the race for delegates is likely to be close, she wants those wins to matter. So she’s fighting the DNC’s decision, and asking her delegates — those she’s already won, and those she will win — to overturn it at the convention. She’s doing so right before Florida, to intensify her good press in the state, where Obama is also on the ballot. And since this is a complicated, internal-party matter that sounds weird to those not versed in it (of course Michigan and Florida should count!), she’s adding a public challenge that, if the other Democrats deny, will make them seem anti-Michigan and Florida.

But if this pushes her over the edge, the Obama camp, and their supporters, really will feel that she stole her victory. They didn’t contest those states because they weren’t going to count, not because they were so committed to the DNC’s procedural arguments that they were willing to sacrifice dozens of delegates to support it. It’s as hard as hardball gets, and the end could be unimaginably acrimonious….

Adds Josh Marshall:

The question of course is what if we have a divided convention, or one where the votes of Michigan and Florida prove key to the result? For decades these have only been hypotheticals. But this year, on both sides, it’s a real possibility.

That’s what Hillary’s trying to do here, lay the groundwork for seating those delegates — which is now seems she’ll win the majority of — even though each of the candidates had accepted the decision of the DNC not to do so. I see no way that that’s not trying to change the rules midway.

If put together in the context of Bill Clinton’s intensive campaigning for Mrs. Clinton and controversial attacks on Obama –so intense that some pundits are now calling the double-teaming Hillary Clinton campaign “Billary” — it seems clear that the Clintons are going to do what anything they can possibly do to prevail no matter how some segments of the party feel it may impact party unity.

Note this article from Reuters which begins:

The resurgence of the old Bill Clinton, flushing with anger and wagging his finger as he fights for his wife’s presidential bid, has cast a shadow over her campaign and could mar his new image as a global statesman.

On Friday, Hillary Clinton herself said her husband had told her he may have gone too far. “He said several times yesterday that maybe he got a little bit carried away,” she told CBS’s “Early Show.”

She was speaking one day before South Carolina votes to select a party candidate for the November election, having seen her early hopes for an easy win in the state-by-state process dashed by mixed results in early state contests.

The former president, who has built on his reputation as a world figure through international charity work since leaving office seven years ago, has done what he said he would not do again — get back down and dirty on a campaign trail.

This time, of course, he is acting on behalf of Hillary, not himself, but senior Democrats worry that the party itself could be damaged as well as Hillary’s struggle.

Meanwhile, two highly prominent and respected moderate columnists are highly-critical of Bill Clinton’s role.

The Washington Posts’ E.J. Dionne, Jr, in a column titled “The Ideas Bill Clinton Forgot” writes that Clinton said the same things about Ronald Reagan that the Clinton campaign is lambasting Obama about:

It was a remarkable moment: A young, free-thinking presidential hopeful named Bill Clinton sat down with reporters and editors at The Post in October 1991 and started saying things most Democrats wouldn’t allow to pass their lips.

Ronald Reagan, Clinton said, deserved credit for winning the Cold War. He praised Reagan’s “rhetoric in defense of freedom” and his role in “advancing the idea that communism could be rolled back.”

“The idea that we were going to stand firm and reaffirm our containment strategy, and the fact that we forced them to spend even more when they were already producing a Cadillac defense system and a dinosaur economy, I think it hastened their undoing,” Clinton declared.

Clinton was careful to add that the Reagan military program included “a lot of wasted money and unnecessary expenditure,” but the signal had been sent: Clinton was willing to move beyond “the brain-dead politics in both parties,” as he so often put it.

His apostasy was widely noticed. The Memphis Commercial Appeal praised Clinton a few days later for daring to “set himself apart from the pack of contenders for the Democratic nomination by saying something nice about Ronald Reagan.” Clinton’s “readiness to defy his party’s prevailing Reaganphobia . . .,” the paper wrote, “is one reason he’s a candidate to watch.”

I have been thinking about that episode ever since Hillary Clinton’s campaign started unloading on Barack Obama for making statements about Reagan that were, if anything, more measured than Bill Clinton’s 1991 comments. Obama simply acknowledged Reagan’s long-term impact on politics and the fact that conservatives once constituted the camp producing new ideas, flawed though they were.

Later, he writes:

Does anyone doubt that if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, she will need the votes of the young people and African Americans who have rallied to Obama — and that what she’s doing now will make it harder to energize them? Doesn’t calling in Bill Clinton as the lead attacker merely underscore Obama’s central theme, that it’s time to “turn the page” on our Bush-Clinton-Bush political past?

And with both Clintons on record saying kind things about Reagan, why go after Obama on the point? Honestly: If Obama is a Reaganite, then I am a salamander.

Read the whole thing.

Salon’s Walter Shapiro, in a piece titled “Bill Clinton Looks Backwards,” writes:

With a degree of inevitability that makes Kabuki seem spontaneous, the 2008 Democratic race has become all about Bill Clinton all the time. The Comeback Kid does not need another comeback since he never really went away. But what is fascinating is that at the same time the Hillary-for-president campaign is putting Bill Clinton forward as an asset, the Obama team (judging from Michelle Obama’s letter) feels free enough to attack the former president for his “win-at-all-costs tactics.” Yes, the target audiences are different: random African-American radio listeners versus presumed Obama supporters. But what seems clear — in a way that is reminiscent of that sad-eyed year 1998 — is that Bill Clinton is once again a double-edged sword for the Democrats.

….But the controversies of the last week serve as a reminder that Bill Clinton can never be an anonymous spear carrier in the grand opera of another Clinton presidency. A successful campaign (not to mention a White House) speaks with one voice, but these days the Clinton team blasts from stereo speakers. What was the message, for example, when Bill Clinton said Wednesday that “Senator McCain is a man who Hillary admires very much”? Was this a bit of post-presidential bipartisanship or the kind of line that might show up in a Republican TV commercial in October?

It is a strange reality of politics 2008 that both parties are still partially mired in the 1980s. Republican candidates vie to be regarded as the next Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton was the president who belatedly crafted the Democratic response to Reaganism — taking issues like welfare, crime and the deficit off the table. But there was always a backward-looking aspect to the Clinton presidency even as he purported to build a “bridge to the 21st century.”

Read it in its entirety.

Right now, the Democratic Presidential nomination campaign is a three person race.

If you add former Senator John Edwards, it’s a four person race.

BUT THAT’S JUST OUR OPINION. HERE’S A CROSS-SECTION OF WEBLOG OPINION ON THE DELEGATE CONTROVERSY:

The Q&O Blog:

Heh … You’ve got to love her chutzpa calling for her “fellow potential nominees” to join her in calling for the reinstatement of those delegates. How completely Clinton.

Matthew Yglesias:

There was a time and a place to stand up for the Michigan and Florida primaries, but she didn’t do it. Instead, she signed a pledge agreeing not to “campaign or participate” in them and the DNC, without her dissenting, said they would get no delegates. She could have decided to do something different, but she didn’t and that’s the way it is.

Wizbang:

When Michigan and Florida moved up their primaries so they took place before February 5th, the Democratic National Committee “punished” the state Democrat parties by stripping them of their delegates, essentially making these states not worth the win. As a result, the Dem candidates didn’t campaign in Michigan, and they aren’t campaigning in Florida. In Michigan, all the Democrat candidates, except for Hillary, went so far as to take their names off the ballots, so Hillary won uncontested. Now, Hillary is working to get these delegates reinstated.

…Sure, Barack Obama will be thrilled to join her on this since Hillary has already won Michigan and Florida’s primary is right around the corner. How brazen. The Clintons are two of the most conniving people I have ever seen

Taylor Marsh:

Beyond the legal issues BTD brings up, seriously, it’s not Clinton’s fault that Obama was pandering to Iowa when this whole Michigan thing first arose (so was Edwards, by the way). Why the DNC would stiff two major states we’d need in the general election is beyond me. Besides, there’s nothing enforceable about these rules. Let’s also remember this was at the same time when a rumor went around that there was a gang up on Clinton regarding Michigan, hoping she’d be the only one left on the ballot thus creating a backlash in Iowa against her.

….And now some bloggers seem to want to paint Clinton as they bad guy, er, girl. So to Josh I say, yes way. But of course, as usual, it’s all Hillary Clinton’s fault! Your daily whine brought to you by the Obamabots and the sanctimonious side of the Always Eager to Lose Wing of the Democratic Party.

Say Anything:

If the Democratic National Committee retroactively gives Michigan and Florida all of their delegates back (both states had half of their delegates removed after they moved their primary dates up without the DNC’s consent) after Hillary wins it will be a blatant act of favoritism for the Clintons. Not to mention a decidedly un-democratic maneuver for the party which calls itself the “Democratic” one.

Outside The Beltway:

I suspect that this is only the beginning of the Clintons’ shenanigans. Though I thought Bill Clinton was a good president, I abhorred the trail of slime he left in his wake, including the Marc Rich pardon and the speech he gave at the aircraft hangar the day he left office, when he reminded the listeners he wasn’t going anywhere. It was tacky in the extreme and diverted attention away from a new president getting inaugurated. Now we’re looking the possibility of four years of his wife as president, a woman who has none of his charm and all of his flaws. Lovely.

Michelle Malkin has a roundup titled: Clintons try to change delegate rules; lefties outraged.

The Reaction:

After agreeing with all the other Democratic candidates not to campaign in Michigan or Florida to punish the states for holding early primaries, Hillary Nothing-But-Ambition Clinton wants the delegates she’s won elsewhere to vote to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida. How convenient. Since nearly every other candidate except her took their names off the Michigan ballot, she’d get most of their delegates without a fair contest and polls show her ahead in Tuesday’s Florida primary, if polls are to be believed. That’s the Clintons for you: Always wanting to change the rules in the middle of the game.

Tom MaGuire:

Hillary wants to change the rules and seat the Florida and Michigan delegations; remember that after they moved their primaries up past Feb 5 the DNC tried to maintain discipline by barring them. Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall are outraged; Hillary and Bill are doing a nice job of destroying their party in order to save it. As for Hillary, the benefit to publicizing this now is that the press may pay attention to the Florida result, where all the Dems are on the ballot but none have been vigorously campaigning.

Talk Left:

[The] decision to remove their names from the ballot in Michigan was initiated by Obama, the Party had nothing to do with it, and Obama’s request was adhered to by Edwards and some of the other candidates but NOT Dodd, Kucinich and Gravel (the dirty cheaters). See, HALF of the candidates did not remove their names from the ballot. There was NO RULE requiring it.

[The] removal was an attempted power play by Obama because he knew he could not run well in Michigan and thought that the pressure of Iowa (protect the whole first thing) would allow him to shut down the possibility of a Michigan beauty contest being deemed meaningful. And indeed Obama’s hardball ploy worked. Michigan was not covered.

However, when Obama saw that Hillary was not going to play his game, he did not remove his name from the Florida ballot, nor could he under Florida law without dropping out of the race entirely. And neither did Edwards. Hence they are all dirty scoundrels breaking the rules in Florida.

Blue Crab Boulevard:

Ok, I have to admit that watching the Democrats wake up to the utter ruthlessness of the Clintons has a rather huge element of Schadenfreude to it. But still, this one is a cake-taker even for the Clintons.

…Watching all this has all the elements of watching a trainwreck. The sheer sense of entitlement from the Clintons is finally grating at even the loyal party members. The viciousness of the infighting is getting increasingly close to the surface. It will cause real damage. Believe it.

Bonus happy thought: if the Clinton’s antics are getting to party loyalists, how do you suppose it is playing with the moderates and unaffiliated?

[ANSWER TO BC BOULEVARD FROM THIS MODERATE: Not good AT ALL.]

The Edge of The American West:

Lately, though, the Clintons have really begun to wear on me. First, it was Hillary playing games with Martin Luther King’s memory… Next, it was Bill dragging himself through the muck and then popping back up with an expression of righteous outrage on his face that anyone would dare to question his methods. Finally, we have this: Hillary trying to reinstate the delegates from Michigan and Florida.

Clearly, this is smart politics. It’s beginning to look like the race for delegates might actually matter this time around on the Democratic side. Every delegate might count, in other words. But trying to change the rules after the game has already started is nasty business. It’s sneaky, it’s underhanded, and it reminds me of the current administration. Again, you say, hardball. I say potato or tomato, sure, you’re right. But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. I want a change.

D-Day:

While I don’t think this primary will rip asunder the Democratic Party, and battles like the one I’m about to discuss are pretty much inside baseball, that doesn’t make me dismiss this disturbing pattern on the part of the Clinton campaign to contest this race on their own terms rather than the terms set forth by party rules….She is breaking the rules to change the rules. I don’t think it’ll hurt her with the Democratic rank-and-file, either, so in a sense it’s ingenious. But I don’t need to reward it.

Riehl World View:

Yes, sweet, innocent, little Hillary is trying to steal some delegates. By bringing Florida up now, she’s attempting to look like a champion of the people in that state. As for Michigan, the other candidates removed themselves from the ballot in a sign of good faith.

But good faith doesn’t exist in Hillary’s conniving world. That left the door wide open for her to remain on the ballot, win in a walk – now she wants the decision to not seat Michigan’s delegates, made before the primary season began, reversed.

UPDATE (more links added):
Ed Morrissey:

Observers could see this coming when Hillary won Michigan. Barack Obama and John Edwards didn’t have a problem in removing their names from the ballot before the primary, and yet Hillary somehow couldn’t quite manage to succeed in negotiating a bureaucracy that gave no trouble to her two competitors. The result? Hillary beat None of the Above by a mere 15 points, but enough to gain over half of Michigan’s delegates if they get them restored. Now she leads in Florida polling by a 2-1 margin, and all of a sudden she’s worried about disenfranchising Florida — a concern that didn’t get much air time when the DNC made its decision.

Would Hillary defy the DNC if she hadn’t won Michigan’s primary after somehow neglecting to have her name removed from the ballot? Would she champion Floridians if Barack Obama was beating her in the polls? Of course not. She’ll wrap all sorts of high-flying rhetoric about fairness and empowerment of the voter around it, but Hillary would have become the Defender of the DNC Faith had anyone else won Michigan.

Public Secrets:

Not only is the prospect of open conventions for both parties intriguing, but I’ll confess to a bit of schadenfreude when it comes to the Democrats. They’ve spent the last five years putting party ahead of country in a time of war; they’ve spent the last 15 years excusing and defending the wretched personal behavior and destructive politics of the Clintons; and they’ve spent the last 40 years shamelessly exploiting the politics of race and identity. Now all those chickens are coming home to roost.

I have to give the Clintons credit for one thing, however: when they play to win, they spare nothing. Forget “take no prisoners.” Hillary and Bill are willing to call artillery fire on their own position if it means they’ll win.

MacsMind:

The left is always screaming – along with Ron Paul – about the “imperialness” of Bush Co. Of course they’re deranged, but even if true it pales in comparison to Clinton Co. Witness this new development where Hillary is pulling out the muscle to get back the delegates the DNC stripped states of because of early primaries.

…It’s more than pandering, it’s a flat out power grab. It’s most likely the last thing Hillary needed right now in light of the former brush up with Obama with “racism” as a theme. Additionally it’s silly. If Obama had won Michigan (he wasn’t on the ballot, nor did he campaign), and was leading in Florida by double digits and tried the same mess Bill would be all over the airwaves screaming and hollering about it being unfair.

Rick Moran:

And now Clinton – in what has to be considered a shocking display of naked power politics – is seeking to change the rules in the middle of the race in order to benefit her campaign…Ultimately – and this would hold true especially if the race for delegates extends beyond the primaries – I doubt whether the results in Michigan and Florida will stand and the lion’s share of the victories simply handed to her. But by raising the issue on the eve of the Florida primary, she lays claim to the sympathies of both state parties while putting the DNC on notice that there’s s new sheriff in town and that the rules other candidates may play by simply don’t apply to the Clinton’s.


UPDATE II:
Andrew Sullivan:

The Clintons push the envelope again – on the Michigan and Florida delegates. Ed Morrissey and Josh Marshall come together. Maybe the Clintons can bring the country together again – in revulsion at their expediency. Jon Chait crosses the anti-Clinton Rubicon for the first time…Wakey! Wakey!

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  • JoeCHI

    The only person breaking the pledge is Obama who has been, against the rules, airing campaign ads in Florida for over a week!

    • Yep, he is breaking the DNC rules by running ads in a state thar doesn’t count. Wow…. (sprinkled liberally with sarcasm). Ads and Delegates are apples and oranges. Senator Clinton is trying to claim the null and void AFTER the fact while planting seeds for the same situation in Florida. That’s just wrong. Case closed, IMHO.

  • Jammer

    Great summary Joe Gandelman. This site does this kind of summary thing better than any other. Personally speaking, I think this controversy is lame. She has so obviously been going this direction (leaving her name on the ballot and wanting to try and seat those delegates at the convention) that you would have had to be a blind fool not to see it. Kudos to her for playing smart. Kudos to her for reaching out to states that feel unjustly excluded. At least someone knows how to play this game. The fact that Edwards and Obama have been caught unaware by this strategy makes me really wonder how they could play the game effectively in Washington. Meanwhile the feigned outrage being expressed by Obama people on web logs (often accompanied by the most foul and personally insulting language) is weird. How can you support a candidate of hope and idealistic optimism and be so rude, mean and insulting? There is something very strange about that.

  • And Jammer, supporters of candidates are known for getting insane about their guy and gal. So the “Obama focus” in your comment really applies to all. Nice try.

    So basically Senator Clinton is a “gamer” for not following the rules of her own party? Ok. Obama should get all the delegates in Nevada since he won more. So on and so forth. Whatever.

    She has South Carolina and Super Tuesday. Since your a driver of the Clinton Supertanker, she should just sweep the pesky Obama. Without MI and FL. Correct?

  • DLS

    Where were Obama’s ads received in Florida? Were they received in Miami, Tampa-St. Pete, Ft. Myers, etc., or only within broadcast reception distance in the northern part of the state (all of the Panhandle, presumably) while the ads were broadcast elsewhere? If they were the same ads shown nation-wide, that was just “passive opportunism” and Clinton and her juggernaut crew are just jealous.

  • DLS

    Meanwhile, Clinton wants the rules changed. And you thought the sordid Dem attempt to steal the White House in 2000 was bad. They’re Not Waiting This Time.

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