In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, "it takes two, baby--to make a dream come true."
the calculus of the Democratic nominating contest--and, thus, the
all-important media narrative--shifted inexorably in Barack Obama's
favor after last week's primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, the
(slightly more than half) of the party that backs Obama--and even a few
Clinton partisans--sounded an old battle cry with a new sense of
urgency: Drop out, Hillary, and let the Democrats unite. "Given
what happened last night, it's very unlikely we will have a different
result, " said Virginia superdelegate Jennifer McClellan last Wednesday, as she threw her support from Clinton to Obama. "It is time to come together as a party and prepare for
victory against John McCain in November." "I think the race is reaching the point now where there are negative
dividends from it, in terms of strife within the party," added California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Clinton supporter. "Get a grip -- and do the right thing," wrote Rosa Brooks of the Los Angeles Times. Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News "wonder[ed] who in Clinton's campaign can get her past her own vanity
and narcissism and make her see that it is time for her to go." And the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board
summed up all the huffing and puffing in three pithy phrases: "Hillary,
it's time to call it quits. Don't do it for Barack Obama. Do it for the
I have to say: I disagree. If Clinton were to follow the peanut gallery's instructions now, the Democrats would wind up more--not less--divided as a result. The reason? It takes two. With their man at the helm, Obamaniacs are more than ready to "unite" with Clintonistas. But the reverse still isn't true. As Kenneth P. Vogel wrote yesterday in the Politico, "the legions of Clinton backers still investing their cash, energy and emotion into her faltering bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seem driven not by the reasonable expectation that she can beat Barack Obama, but by the emotional desire to see her through to the end of voting and stick it to those who have already written her off." Unless Clinton lets the race run its course--i.e., waits until the Florida/Michigan dispute has been resolved (which won't affect his lead) and the voters of West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana have had their say--many of her supporters will blame the media, the DNC, Obama and anyone else within spitting distance for pushing her out prematurely. And that means they'll be less inclined to "come together" than they are now--not more. Even Obama seems to agree. As the Philadelphia Inquirer put it yesterday, "in interviews last week, the Illinois senator described her with such words as 'tireless,' 'smart,' 'capable' and 'formidable' and expressed no impatience with her continued presence in the race. He said she'd have to be on anyone's short list as a would-be running mate, and resisted attempts to describe himself as the presumptive nominee."
Of course, the Democratic Party would benefit in several ways if Clinton quit ASAP--as partisans are fond of reminding us. She would no longer validate the incoming Republican barbs by flinging them at Obama herself. He would no longer be forced to spend his time and money campaigning in primary states that won't change the outcome of the Democratic nominating contest, and could instead focus those resources on McCain (and the broader electoral map) instead. But Clinton has already eliminated harsh contrasts with Obama from her stump speech; Obama is already turning his attention to his rival from Arizona. (He also launched a 50-state voter registration drive over the weekend and plans to visit the fall swing states of Missouri, Michigan and Florida over the next 10 days.) With those developments in mind, it's hard to see how the pluses of an "early" Clinton exit outweigh the major minus. After all, it doesn't matter whether Obama can pivot to the general election if half the party insists that it's not ready to join him yet.
On Saturday afternoon, I received an email from a Clinton supporter named "Suzanne Little, Ph.D." Little didn't say anything particularly earth-shattering, but her message--impassioned yet resigned--neatly encapsulated the way a whole lot of Clintonites are feeling right now. "I am not averse to Obama," she wrote. "I think he has positive points, but I am enraged at how badly Clinton has been treated... I am so disillusioned as a Democrat. I cannot believe how the pundits from the very beginning have been effectively rooting for Obama and now calling off the race with primaries still to go, thus systematically undermining a democratic process. LET IT PLAY OUT. So what if the numbers don't compute?" I agree. Does that mean Clinton should carry on scorched-earth campaign until the August convention? Of course not. But her supporters would surely find it easier to accept Obama as their nominee if they were satisfied that Clinton was not pressured to drop out and had exhausted every reasonable opportunity to make her case--which won't happen until at least June 3, when the final states of South Dakota and Montana cast their ballots. Assuming that she continues to rein in the attacks, insisting that Clinton quit now--however emotionally satisfying it is for Obama's supporters--would only make Democratic unity a dimmer, more distant prospect.
The next time Obama chats with Clinton, then, he might consider quoting another Marvin Gaye classic: "You're All I Need to Get By."
UPDATE, 1:12 p.m.: Also important to acknowledge: Obama is going to lose in West Virginia, Kentucky and perhaps Puerto Rico; in the latest polls, Clinton leads by 30-40 points in the first two, and its widely expected to trounce him in the third. And with her name guaranteed to remain on the ballot--and her supporters guaranteed to cast protest votes if she withdraws--he'll lose whether or not she technically remains in the race. Exposing your weaknesses among white working-class voters (and maybe Latinos) by losing to a candidate currently running against you is one thing. But exaggerating them by losing to a candidate who has already quit the contest is worse. Imagine the headlines--and how Republicans would use them. Another reason why Clinton's continued presence isn't such a catastrophe...
UPDATE, 2:49 p.m.: Reader Jeff Book makes a smart point. "It seems to me you are conflating two separate issues -- whether it would be good for Hillary to drop out, and whether it would be good for Obama or his supporters to 'insist' she drop out," he writes. "Of course it would be counterproductive for Obama or supporters to 'insist' she get out. But that doesn't mean it's constructive for Hillary to continue running when she's not going to win, she's $20 million in debt, and her mouthpieces (Wolfson, McAuliffe) continue to specialize in taunts and misinformation about the state of the race, which will make it that much more difficult and time-consuming to unify after she does drop out."
I agree that Clinton quitting and Obama supporters insisting that she quit are two different things. But in the end, the effect is the same. Whether or not Team Obama tells Clinton to withdraw "prematurely"--i.e. before June 3--a premature withdrawal would generate the same reaction among her most passionate supporters: namely, a lot of anger and a lot of finger-pointing. They would feel as if she were forced from the race. So I still believe that Clinton continuing her twilight campaign until Obama has actually clinched the nomination--and she has exhausted every reasonable case for her candidacy--will provide Democrats with their best shot at unity come November.