So I have one major concern about Clinton coming out of the South Carolina experience, and that is her campaign organization. Simply put, they were not IDing voters, they did not have doorhangers, and I was sent on election day to doors of lots of women who told me they voted in the Republican primary. It looks to me like they obviously cut a big list of women and half-heartedly did little to no outreach. Worse, they didn't work the state while pretending they were, which was a mistake that can only come from internal infighting that we saw with the Kerry shop. The right hand was failing to organize and the left hand was telling the press that they were competing in South Carolina. The decision was also made at some point in December to disengage, while the Obama people were heavily manipulating the state voter file and running a top notch operation.
Now, it's possible that this was a one-off, but from what I hear, the Clinton campaign at the top is somewhat disorganized, prone to panic, and driven by committee. Bill and Hillary never give up, of course, but there is tremendous infighting that is paralyzing. And let's just note that Mark Penn isn't a very good strategist, and you cannot sustainably build field organizations in the same reactive manner you can respond to media firestorms. Now, the Clinton's had good or great organizations in Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire, and they have some superb progressive field people at the top, so I initially thought that they would respect the 50 state strategy. I am no longer so sure and I worry that, to the extent that organizing matters, the Clinton's may try to confine the map and not drive out new voters in 2008 in states like Kentucky where, with the right opponent (Mitt), we could win and pick up a Senate seat. More than that, I am concerned about strategic drift. The Clinton's are great at running in a hostile environment with a media campaign, but they are not field or internet people at their core. When they commit their team to it they are great, but how strong is that commitment? I worry about that.
Both Obama and Clinton have played vicious hardball in this primary, as they should. In Nevada, Clinton's people in some areas clearly abused the rules, as did Obama's (read this fascinating post from Steve Clemons from an Edwards staffer for more on this). A caucus is in many ways a voter suppression event, and Obama's campaign refused to concede and implied fraud without going through the formal motions of redress, just as Clinton's sued to keep the caucuses off the strip and is now playing bullshit games with Michigan and Florida. Identity politics, of the sort from the Clinton surrogates or the type from Obama and McLurkin and the arguments about 'tea' which are clearly oriented towards Clinton's gender, have played a big role. On balance the Clinton's may have played dirtier, though I'm not sure, and if it's true it is certainly not by a large amount. We must also note that dirty pool in elections has a long and rich history, as JFK, FDR, or Lyndon Johnson have shown. It's politics, not pillow fighting, and the prize is control of the Presidency.
My worries on Obama are very different from my concerns about Clinton. He has taken a slight lead in Colorado, an early indication of a bounce showing he's capable of taking the nomination. And Todd Beeton is right that Massachusetts is now a state to watch for a lot of reasons. The Obama-esque liberal reformer streak runs strong in that state. He's definitely in this, possibly even in the driver's seat. What worries me is that his message of post-partisan unity will be smashed immediately when the Republicans decide they disagree with him, and the press gets bored and turns.
For now, Matthew Yglesias, K-Lo at NRO's the Corner,, Andrew Sullivan, and Josh Marshall are all effusively praising Obama. There's something of a DC-New York Ivy pundit crush on Obama that I'm seeing all over the place. The Village is happy as a clam to see Hillary and Bill go down. And be aware that the Village doesn't like us and wants us to shut up and stop bothering them about silly things like civil rights and the Consti-whatever it's called. And oh yeah, Iraq.
So as you are seeing the primary play out, note that Obama's coalition is resting on what is potentially a very fragile foundation. I find Obama's organizing capacity remarkable and wonderful for all sorts of reasons, and I'll have more on that soon. But keep in mind that the weird alliance between the pro-Obama netroots, the DC Villagers and media, the right-wing establishment, business leaders, social justice activists, and black elites is temporary. These varying interests only intersect on one thing, and that is taking down the Clinton's. A Village temper tantrum against the Clinton's happens periodically, and it is never a good thing. Ever. And if and once the Clinton's have lost, the fraying of this coalition will happen instantly and unpredictably, depending on Obama's personal allegiances and the various political interests and their calculations.
If this coalition frays, it might not stop a Democrat from getting to the White House, but it could destroy their capacity to govern. And while it's true that no President will be as unskilled at governing as Bush, it's also true that Bush has made the job much much harder. As Parag Khanna notes in his excellent New York Times piece, America is no longer the preeminent power in the world, we are one of several powers, and bringing us down psychologically and institutionally to a humble republic in a multi-polar world with climactic instability will require herculean competence and vision. The right of course will simply use the troubles they caused and the next President must deal with to run and win in 2010, and set us up for President Petraeus in 2012.
This campaign, and frankly the next number of years, is in the political realm going to be vicious and ugly, and we should be noticing that something is amiss and preparing for it. This is getting really really weird.