|#1: Obama made it clear he would not run as either a partisan Democrat or a partisan progressive from the start.
Back on Sunday, playing on the whole "what happened to the Obama of 2004" theme, the Carpetbagger Report notes we should have seen that Obama was not going to run as a partisan from the start:
I went back and listened to Obama's whole convention speech again this morning to see what, exactly, was different. I noticed a few things. Most notably, Obama really hasn't changed his message that much at all. I think the question, "What happened to the Obama we saw in 2004?" actually gets the broader dynamic backwards - Obama's campaign may be struggling a bit in part because his message is too much like the 2004 speech.
If you have a few minutes, go ahead and take a look for yourself. Obama's message was inspirational, but it also underscored a variety of themes, including an emphasis on unity and hope. There was barely a hint of red meat in the speech. He didn't mention George W. Bush once. There were no references to Dick Cheney or congressional Republicans. Indeed, his only reference to the GOP at all was this: "Fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, I say to you tonight: We have more work to do."(…)
As it turns out, though, voters may not be looking for the 2004 Obama at all. Voters, particularly the Democratic rank-and-file, aren't so much interested in unity. Demonstrating a willingness to work with rivals across the aisle isn't necessarily a selling point.
We should have seen that Obama wouldn't run as either an ideological or Democratic partisan from the start. His 2004 convention speech made that perfectly clear. We should also have seen that a bruised and battered Democratic activist base, after years of defeat, being called traitors, and inability to get Republican to compromise on anything at all, wasn't exactly willing to just throw their hands up in the air and say to Republicans:
Homer: Why you cotton-pickin'--[strangles Cletus] [to himself] No, I gotta pass this class for my kids. [to Cletus] Son, let's stop the fussin' and the feudin'.
Cletus: I love you, Pa! [weeps]
Homer: I love you, Cletus! [weeps]
That wasn't going to happen, even though it would have helped Obama if it had. Democrats, especially the under 50 progressive creative class portion of the party, don't just want conservatives to finally stop attacking them so everyone can finally all hold hands. Instead, for once, they actually want to win. Unfortunately for Obama, he offered them milquetoast unity instead.
Now, in reaction to being pushed by the progressive base on McClurkin, Atrios notes the many ways that Obama lashes out against progressives:
Aside from the adoption of right wing frames, this kind of statement is incredibly insulting to both the LGBT community who are apparently "hermetically sealed from the faith community" and to the "faith community" which is apparently defined as nothing more than a bunch of anti-gay bigots. Not to mention the Democratic Party, which apparently includes no actual religious people.
It's really just insulting to everyone, with a touch of "shut the hell up I know best."
This isn't new. Obama has done this before. In fact, during 2006, he repeatedly engaged in the long-standing practice of chastising progressives for not being nice to people of faith:
Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.
"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks prepared for delivery to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty...
At the same time, he said, "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."
As a result, "I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people and join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy."
That was not an isolated incident:
We're now in a packed room at Eastern Illinois University. A woman stands up and tosses Obama what I assume she thinks is a bit of red meat. What, she asks, does the senator think of the pervasiveness of religion in public discourse these days? Obama doesn't take the bait.
"No one would say that Dr. King should leave his moral vision at the door before getting involved in public-policy debate," he answers. "He says, `All God's children.' `Black man and white man, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic.' He was speaking religiously. So we have to remember that not every mention of God is automatically threatening a theocracy.
Obama has long criticized the left for being hostile to Americans of faith whenever he was pushed on this topic. In fact, he often made such criticisms without even being pushed. As such, there was no reason to expect that his reaction to criticism of choosing McClurkin, or really his reaction to any progressive criticism, would be any different. If Democrats and progressives criticized anything in his campaign that had to do with faith, those same Democrats and progressives would simply be told that they aren't properly reaching out to people of faith. At the same time, he has consistently failed to offer progressives and Democrats any red meat, no matter what Republicans would do or say. This is a clear pattern for Obama. We should have seen it coming.
#2: Only Obama Had a Serious Chance to Defeat Clinton
I was a little more on top of this one, as nine months ago I wrote the following in a post entitled Calling Bullshit On The Blogosphere's National Trial Heat Narrative:
Considering that Gore is just as well known as Clinton, but is a whopping 23% behind in national trial heats, his deficit clearly has nothing to do with name recognition. Edwards also trails Clinton by more points in national trial heats (19%) than he trails by in terms of name recognition (16%). At this point in the campaign, he [Edwards] is further behind Clinton (19%) than Dean was behind Lieberman (18%), even though the name ID gap between Edwards and Clinton (16%) is just one-third of the name ID gap that separated Lieberman and Dean (48%). Of the "top tier," only Obama, who trials Clinton by an average of 13% in trial heats, and 33% in national name recognition, is much further behind in name ID than he is in national trial heats. Thus, right now it appears that only he is a position to catch Clinton in terms of name recognition alone.
By contrast to the current campaign, Kerry, Edwards and Dean all had Obama's opportunity to pass Lieberman in 2003 purely through higher name ID. Importantly, all eventually succeeded. Four years ago, among the candidates who at one time or another occupied the "top tier," only Gephardt trailed Lieberman by more in national trial heats than he trailed by in terms of name recognition. Instructively, unlike Kerry, Edwards and Dean, he [Gephardt] never succeeded in clearly passing Lieberman in national trial heats. It is not a stretch to argue that candidates like Gore and Edwards face similar problems to Gephardt--actually worse--since their relative name ID / trial heat deficit is worse than Gephardt's (especially Gore's). And we all know how Gephardt's campaign turned out.
The lessons here should be clear. First, simple comparisons of Clinton's poll lead in early 2007 to Lieberman's lead in early 2003 do not hold up under scrutiny. Her lead in national trial heats in much larger than Lieberman's, despite a smaller advantage in name recognition (at least when compared to the so called "top-tier"). This means her lead is far more difficult to dismiss. Second, as I have indicated in the past, Obama is clearly in the best position to move up nationally, as he is in second place in national trial heats, despite being in last place among the "top tier" when it comes to name recognition. It also helps that he has a substantial netroots following, which will be a significant driving force behind any further upward movement on his part.
At the start of the campaign, Obama was the only candidate who led Clinton according to the "known universe metric." That is, only Obama had a higher percentage of support among people who knew him (42%) than did Clinton (30%). No other candidate even had half of Clinton's "known universe" score. This meant that increased name ID wasn't going to help anyone except for Obama and, counter-intuitively, Clinton. According to the "known universe" metric, the more likely people got to know every candidate, the more likely they were to support Obama and Clinton. As such, barring something truly spectacular, basically only Obama had a realistic shot of winning the nomination besides Clinton as the campaign wore on.
Obama's big chance was based his potential to forge a coalition of working class African-Americans and the under 50 progressive "creative class." This was, in fact, the coalition Obama built to win the 2004 Illinois Senatorial primary, as I saw up close in Chicago during the final months of that campaign. It wasn't even just a question of issues. Obama's particular appeal to this younger, urban, well-educated, wealthier generation was particularly natural and strong because it was primarily identity based. As I argued eleven months ago:
I think Obama, simply in terms of his demeanor and his biography, strongly appeals to politicos from a new generation and a new socioeconomic class because he strikes them in some sort of gut, intuitive level as being from that class. Multi-ethnic, post-Vietnam, highly educated, raised in a major urban center--these are many of the cosmopolitan, self-creating, forward looking aspects of life for many younger professionals. As much as we may or may not like Bill Clinton, coming from a little town in Arkansas is not a story many Americans can relate to anymore, because we just didn't grow up that way. Even John Edwards's story of growing up in a mill town when the mill closed seems very, very rustic for a northeasterner such as myself, since our mills closed down sixty years ago to move to places like North Carolina. These rustic visions of America simply are not where people are at these days, especially news junkies and activists within the Democratic Party and the bluer parts of America. Those people instead look to places like Harlem, where Bill Clinton now keeps his offices. People moving into the gentrifying areas of Harlem probably like Barack Obama quite a bit, and probably feel some sort of gut-level, identity-based connection with him that they can't even quite put their finger on at this point.
I can't quite put my finger on it either, but the rise of Obama, I believe, is largely based on a new vision of personal identity that will inevitably come to impact our national political discourse. Whether or not his speeches and policy ideas continue to live up to that identity remains to be seen, but it does give him an edge on the rest of older, predominately Baby Boomer field that, generally speaking, will not trumpet their urban or multi-ethnic roots. If he can continue to tap into this new identity and socio-economic wave, his campaign will be difficult to defeat, especially if it is combined with strong African-American support. A coalition of African-Americans and the professional, creative class (both within the netroots and the party establishment), would be a devastating coalition in a Democratic primary that I am not sure anyone could defeat.
It wasn't long before this characterization was demonstrated in actual poll numbers. The first major demographic crosstabs on the Democratic primary were released by Pew in late April. While Obama was trailing Clinton by 10 points among African-Americans, he was close enough to keep the overall campaign competitive. His real strength grew elsewhere. Relative to Clinton, at the start of the campaign Obama's best demographic categories were, in order, seculars (Obama +25 over Clinton), income over $100K (+12), college graduates (+7), Midwesterners (+6), ages 18-29 (+5), men ages 18-49 (+3), westerners (even), Dem-leaning independents (even), and self-identified liberals (-2). Clearly, his best demographics lined up with the progressive "creative class" strain of the Democratic Party that dominates the netroots: skewing male, young, highly educated, secular, and self-identified progressive / liberal. With the exception of the regional advantages Obama held at that time, the netroots oversamples all of the same demographic groups where Obama was leading. It should also be noted that the netroots also oversamples the LGBT community and the Jewish community, both crosstabs that Pew did not supply but I have little doubt started out pro-Obama. How could he have been ahead among all of the above listed groups, and not also have been ahead among those two groups?
Up and down the different demographic groups, Obama was winning the progressive "creative class." That support gave him a national lead in money and volunteers, and also kept him very close in national polls (down only 7.0% in early May), Iowa polls (ahead of Clinton in early May), New Hampshire polls (down only 7.7% in early May) and South Carolina (ahead in early May). It formed the center of his coalition, and he appeared positioned to defeat Clinton because of it.
#3: Obama's campaign undercuts his own coalition
In the first section of this article, I pointed out that Obama has, on multiple occasions, attacked secular extremist strawmen in his public statements. Now, I am not a campaign professional, but given that the Pew crosstabs showed seculars as clearly his best demographic at the start of the campaign, do those attacks make sense to anyone at all? Why would someone repeatedly attack his strongest demographic, especially when that demographic makes up one-fifth of the national electorate in the Democratic primary season? Consider further how that demographic is heavily oversampled both in New Hampshire (one of the five most secular states in the country) and in the key activist / buzz community of the netroots and blogosphere (which is about 40-45% secular in polls I have seen). Attacking your strongest supports seems like a colossally stupid campaign strategy. It seems like the kind of thing someone does if s/he wants to lose. Not surprisingly, given this tactic, Obama saw his early advantage among the progressive creative class disappear by early August:
Clinton has made significant inroads into voter groups that had broadly supported Obama earlier in the year. For example, Clinton now leads Obama by more than two-to-one (41% vs. 17%) among Democratic-leaning independents.
This group was evenly divided at 30% each in earlier Pew polling. Younger voters continue to be one of the core segments of Obama's base, though Clinton has widened her lead from 4-points to 12-points among Democratic voters under age 50. Clinton also has increased her advantage from 9 percentage points to 25 points among voters 50 to 64 years old, while also gaining among those 65 and older.
Ideology looked to be a critical dividing line among Democrats in earlier polling, but the liberal-conservative divide has largely disappeared as the campaign has progressed. In March and April, liberal Democrats were split between Clinton and Obama (32% vs. 30%, respectively) while conservatives favored Clinton by nearly three-to-one (42% vs. 15%). Today, there is virtually no difference between the preferences of these two subsets of Democratic voters.
And while college graduates favored Obama over Clinton by 31% to 24% in earlier Pew polling, Clinton has opened up a 34% to 23% advantage here as well. Still, less educated Democrats remain Clinton's strongest backers.
Even before he screwed up with McClurkin, Obama saw his early advantage among liberals, college graduates, Dem-leaning independents, wealthy voters, and seculars all dry up. He lost the creative class that was one of the two main components of his coalition, and the main component of his Iowa and New Hampshire coalitions. And, not surprisingly, after months of slowly gaining on Clinton in national polls, the trend reversed itself as his coalition fell apart. In early May, only a couple of weeks after the Pew crosstabs were released, Real Clear Politics showed Obama within 7.0% of Clinton nationally: 32.8%--25.8%. From that point on, it was basically all downhill for Obama. Now, he trails 47.7%--21.3% nationally according to RCP, a pro-Clinton swing of nearly 20%. Clinton's lead in New Hampshire has also more than doubled. Further, she has pulled clear of Obama in both Iowa and South Carolina, both states where she once trailed him. Yet further, she has also taken the lead in fundraising of late. Obama tossed his own coalition under the bus, and quite unsurprisingly began losing ground in the campaign as a result.
Of course, Obama didn't blow up his own coalition just by attacking seculars. He consistently blew it through his conciliatory message of unity toward Republicans, and his lack of leadership during the major congressional fights that began really heating up in May. While he was talking about reaching across the aisle and refusing to engage in either ideological or Democratic partisanship, starting in May Democrats and progressives began to suffer a serious of severe legislative setbacks at the hands of Republicans and conservatives. Late May is not only when the first of these defeats took place (the first Iraq supplemental), but it is also the time when Clinton began pulling away from Obama. Defeats like Iraq funding, FISA, habeas corpus, S-Chip, and official condemnations of the netroots began to mount. Instead of leading the charge on any of these issues, Obama kept talking about being bi-partisan and reaching out across ideological and party lines. This language still oozed through his most recent major policy speech on energy, delivered only three weeks ago. No matter what happened, and no matter how angry the progressive, creative class grew with these defeats, this language of unity with Republicans just kept coming from Obama. In fact, while the group that once formed the center of his coalition was being officially condemned by the Senate, Obama didn't even show up to vote, and issued the following statement
The focus of the United States Senate should be on ending this war, not on criticizing newspaper advertisements. This amendment was a stunt designed only to score cheap political points while what we should be doing is focusing on the deadly serious challenge we face in Iraq. It's precisely this kind of political game-playing that makes most Americans cynical about Washington's ability to solve America's problems. By not casting a vote, I registered my protest against this empty politics. I registered my views on the ad itself the day it appeared.
The Senate was officially condemning MoveOn, by far the largest progressive creative class organization, and Obama doesn't even show up to vote. Talk about shooting your own coalition in the foot. And if not defending MoveOn and seculars wasn't enough, in the McClurkin incident Obama then went on and didn't defend the GLBT community, a group that makes up a double-digit percentage of the progressive creative class. Toss the Joe Anthony MySpace incident onto the fire, and Obama seems to have shot his own coalition in both feet and both hands. Maybe he kept shooting it because it just wouldn't die. I don't think there is any need to worry about that now.
Obama consistently refused to stand up for the people who once formed the heart of his coalition. Further, instead of showing leadership during difficult congressional fights, Obama consistently talked about reaching across the aisle and forming consensus while the other side of the aisle was regularly shooting down consensus legislation on Iraq, FISA, habeas, SChip and much more. How much more hollow could that make his rhetoric sound, especially when he was in the Senate when that all happened? In short, he did nothing that was necessary to keep his coalition of African-Americans and creative class progressives together. In fact, it wasn't even as though he sacrificed one for the other, since he continues to trail Clinton among African-Americans. Instead, he sacrificed the more overtly and naturally anti-Clinton segment of his coalition and made no gains in other areas as a result. This is especially bad when one considers that Obama lost the half of his coalition among whom he was actually winning. This is especially, especially bad when one considers that he cut off the half of his coalition that forms a much larger percentage of the electorate in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Basically, it was political suicide for Obama to not stand up for this segment of the coalition, and to keep preaching to them about the need to froge unity with conservatives and Republicans. He actively brought down the coalition that, at first, it appeared he would ride to victory.
Barring a miraculous victory in Iowa, I think that Obama is done and Clinton is the nominee. I don't see how Edwards comes back with only $1.5M to spend on ads in Iowa. Further, Richardson hasn't made any gains in the state in four months, and everyone else trails Clinton by about 25% in the state right now. Seriously, I think it would take a miracle for it to change. From the start, Obama was the only one with a real chance, but now has just suffered too severe a blow with the white, progressive creative class that he needed to win the state. After five months of losing ground among this group, the vicious, deserved, and nearly blogosphere-wide criticism of Obama today seems like too much to overcome. It is the nail in the coffin for his campaign. He just can't win the primary without those voters, and I don't see how he gets them back now.
It is ironic, really. During 2006 and early 2007, I always thought that the netroots would end up being the downfall of Hillary Clinton's campaign. However, it turns out that losing the netroots has been the downfall of Barack Obama's campaign, resulting in the rise of Hillary Clinton. We did determine the outcome, just not in the way I expected. I think we should have seen it coming, but the future is always hard to predict. While it is disappointing, it doesn't really make me sad. Hopefully, at the very least, the downfall of Obama's campaign will serve as a warning to anyone else in the Democratic Party who wants to harness the activism of the netroots to win, but who distances him or herself from the netroots in order to look palatable to the establishment. You can't throw us under the bus and expect us to still support you forever. If you throw us under the bus, well, there are better things we can do with our lives then continue to support you.