The Most Bitter Primary Ever? Um?

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Apr 16, 2008 at 13:48

Seriously, Josh?

But it is hard for me to see where this is not the most bitter and negative Democratic primary in the last forty years.

Remember this ad in 2004?

Matt Stoller :: The Most Bitter Primary Ever? Um?

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I..... (0.00 / 0)
turned my head a little when I read that as well.  Maybe he was referencing the length of the primary?  As someone who worked in NH for Dean in 03' and briefly 04' I remember the shock of seeing that ad online for the first time.

I see your point (4.00 / 1)
and not to put words in his mouth, but I think he meant it in terms of  how bitter and negative a prolonged primary, as we have in this case, is.  I'm not sure there was any one specific incident comparable to the ad you've referred to, but in totality, I don't disagree with Josh.  

The fact of the matter is that the 2004 campaign was fairly short compared to 2008; Kerry and Gephardt just dropped this nuke of an ad on Dean, and in a flash the campaign was over, whereas 2008 is very much a long, painful, death by a thousand tiny cuts war of attrition.

That said, that ad was horrific, and I'm not sure where the players behind it ended up (I actually think one is with the Obama campaign, ironically), but Clinton, it seems to me, has been essentially running the same campaign over the past four months or so.  Hit the front runner from the right on national security - a time tested Democratic strategy (reason enough for it to be tossed, IMHO).

Also (4.00 / 1)
"Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience...Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy."


"John McCain has passed the commander in chief test."

"John McCain has a lifetime of experience."


Quite a striking similarity, no?

[ Parent ]
Two ways that Josh is correct (0.00 / 0)
1. The LENGTH of this primary campaign, and showing two strong candidates at loggerheads.
2. The amount of interest generated by this campaign - both in the news, and in the registrations.  

While this ad is VERY bad, the impact was pretty much done by February.  We've basically had many more months of this primary.

Not Just About Length (0.00 / 0)
The problem this year is that, according to national polls, approximately 30% of Democrats are so opposed to one of the two candidates that they would be willing to vote for a Republican if their preferred candidate didn't get the nomination. Millions of Clinton supporters seem to viscerally hate Barack Obama. Almost as many Obama supporters seem to viscerally hate Hillary Clinton.

The Osama morphing into Dean ad was definitely more incendiary than any TV spot we've seen this year. And while it's entirely possible that Dean supporters hated John Kerry more than Obama supporters hate Hillary (or vice-versa), it's important to remember that at this point Obama and Clinton each have a far far far far far greater number of passionate supporters than Dean ever did.

Bloggers keep bringing up this ad whenever anyone says that this has been an especially negative contest. But I haven't heard any convincing arguments that the 2004 primaries polarized the Democratic electorate anywhere close to the degree that we're seeing this year. Josh Marshall is right. The individual campaign spots may not be anywhere near as negative as that anti-Dean spot, but the overall tenor is far more negative. Maybe this isn't more negative than Carter vs. Kennedy or Humphrey vs. McGovern, but so far it's at least as bad.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, nothing like this has ever happened before (4.00 / 1)

It was a close race, but then the underdog [Hubert Humphrey] decided to play dirty in the primary and call the leading candidate [George McGovern] some nasty things, accusing him of being inexperienced and weak on military. . . . Humphrey claimed McGovern would destroy America's military and launched a fight at the convention. . . . The Republicans capitalized on this in the general election. . . .


Jimmy Carter criticized for remark made about neighborhood "ethnic purity".  Carter said he doesn't favor federal power to change ethnic purity of some neighborhoods, but is for federal and state open-housing laws. . . . Senator Henry Jackson says Carter will be explaining remark for long time. Carter apologizes for careless use of language.  Representative Morris Udall and Jackson attacked Carter for remark.  Black supporter of Carter, Representative Andrew Young, speaks about remark . . . says remark will hurt Carter. . . . In "Nashville Banner" President Ford predicts Senator Hubert H. Humphrey will be his opponent.  Says Carter not specific on issues


The caustic criticism exchanged this week by President Carter and Senator Edward M. Kennedy has raised the intensity of the primary campaign to such a fierce, personal pitch that Democrats are asking whether the party can reunite in time for the general election in November. . . . Senator Kennedy assailed Mr. Carter's foreign policies so sharply that he suggested the president had in effect encouraged the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. . . . The administration's anger was reflected in Mr. Carter's assertion that the Senator's criticism has been "very damaging to our country."


When Democrats contemplate the apocalypse these days, they have visions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton slugging it out à la Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter at the 1980 convention. The campaign's current trajectory is, in fact, alarmingly similar to the one that produced that disastrous affair. . . . much of the bitterness in 1980 arose from the floor votes Kennedy engineered to drive a wedge between Carter and his delegates. . . .

Length? (4.00 / 1)
The primary season didn't end until June in the 1970s and 1980s. Also, the'72 and '80 fights went all the way to the convention, as the articles indicated.

[ Parent ]
72 and 80 (0.00 / 0)
You're right, and the results of the 1972 and 1980 elections speak for themselves.

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Not relevant (4.00 / 1)
That wasn't the question at issue. The question was, is Obama-Clinton really the most divisive primary fight the Dems have had uin the last 40 years.

I think the answer is no, and not by a long shot.

The issue of the effect on the general election is a separate question, but I doubt any Democrat would have beaten Nixon in '72 or Reagan in '80, regardless of the nature of the primary battle.

[ Parent ]
Tactics Vs. Results (0.00 / 0)
My feeling is that the tactics of the two campaigns have been relatively mild, but even still the Democratic electorate is at least as bitterly divided as in those contests. Maybe if the internet and the 24 hour cable news cycle had existed in 1972 or 1980, things would have been much worse.

That said, there's still plenty of time for this to sort itself out. But if Clinton aggressively fights all the way to the convention, do you really believe it won't be damaging to the party?

[ Parent ]
The Reason For (0.00 / 0)
the division you speak of is because of the Hillary haters.

No one who supports Clinton hates Obama. They just don't think he is the best candidate for a number of reason.

And no one who supports Obama necessarily loves Obama. He was recruited off the bench by progressives when Edwards crashed and burned. It's not that people think he is that great (well the college crowd does in their 'first' election) it's just that he isn't Clinton. Progressives made up their minds from the beginning that they didn't like Clinton even if she opposed and voted against the tax breaks to Big Oil that Obama VOTED FOR. Even if Obama in his latest ad says he takes no money from Big Oil but yet the FEC shows he takes it direct from the Big Oil execs. Even if Clinton does have a better progressive voting record than Obama does.

It doesn't matter that Obama is a Reagan hugging centrist - he's not Clinton - and that is all that matters and anyone who disagrees with the Obama supporters is attacked. There is your division.

[ Parent ]
Wow (0.00 / 0)
A Reagan hugging centrist who is supported by naive college students.  That's a good one.  Clinton has been consistently worse than Obama in embracing right wing frames and attacking her opponents, particularly Obama, from the right.

[ Parent ]
could be (0.00 / 0)
It's possible that it might be damaging, but I'm not convinced that it has to be.

[ Parent ]
wha? (0.00 / 0)
As far as I can tell, this is not even the 2nd most bitter democratic primary of election years starting in '200_).

Anyone who watched any of the debates between Gore and Bradley, especially the one in Harlem, which is where Gore lost the general election, in my opinion (where millions of progressive democrats decided - 'gee, Gore isn't a member of a party I want to belong to anymore, and Ralph Nader went from a footnote to 7% candidate practically overnight)

Now - this one is not over, and if Hillary manages a backroom convention 'coup', Josh might have an argument.

7%? (0.00 / 0)
Nader got 2.73% of the vote in 2000, and I doubt most of the people voting for him did it because of the Gore-Bradley debate.

[ Parent ]
That was an independent ad (0.00 / 0)
Run by a 527, Americans for Jobs, Health Care & Progressive Values.  Associated with Gephardt/Kerry?  Some said so, but I don't recall hard evidence.  

It's tough to compare what independent groups do to what candidates do.  My thought at the time in '04 is that any candidate who had run and stood behind such an ad would've been sunk instantly.

I can remember primary battles on back to '64 (Republican), and I've devoured every detail of them since '84, and I do think there are some qualitative differences this time.

Disclosure: I'm a Clinton supporter.  

I have never seen a Democratic candidate beset on a personal level on so many fronts as what has happened to Hillary Clinton in this campaign.  The Obama brain trust led the charge, going negative and personal long before the first vote was cast, although much of the nastiest stuff has come from the media or from Obama's supporters.  And I wonder if it's because of the fact that his campaign has enlisted so many folks who are new to politics and/or new to the Party, because at least on-line, a lot of folks don't seem to converse with the civility and decorum I have expected when liberals converse among each other.  You have to have pretty thick skin to support Hillary on-line these days, no matter how civil and fact-based you attempt to be.

Look at it this way.  Hillary Clinton came into this campaign very well known, in fact probably the most famous woman in the world, certainly among the top 3.  However, despite how well known she already was, and despite the fact that she underwent a decade as a or the prime target of the then-nascent GOP slime machine, as well as a target of a far-flung highly-publicized years-long criminal investigation conducted by a prosecutor with vast powers and resources at his disposal who was (1) highly competent, (2)highly biased, and (3) highly determined to shame her if not convict her--her negatives have never been as high as they are right now.

This primary has hurt her worse than Ken Starr could.

I've never seen a Democratic candidate whose character and personal reputation were reduced to tatters by a Democratic primary.  Of all the folks mentioned--McGovern, Carter, Gore, even Dean once the 3-day-wonder of The Scream was over--none of them came out of the Democratic Primary as objects of ridicule with their reputation and personal integrity in tatters.

So, never having seen a Democratic candidate so battered and savaged by the process, and happening to be a big fan of that very Democratic candidate who has sucked up all the beatings--it's hard for me to agree that this race isn't different, and more bitter.

I know it's the first race in the 36 years I've been a Democrat that has me seriously thinking about leaving the Party.  I know the Republicans are still even worse, and there's little if any chance I will ever vote for the first Republican of my entire life and every chance I will keep on pulling Democratic levers--I just don't much think I want to be personally associated with the new Democrats.  The people that trash the only heroes this Party has had in the last 40 years.  The people who praise Reagan's foreign policy because their leader said good words about them.  

Reagan is Satan to me, and Bill Clinton is a hero, and really, that ain't negotiable.  If the Democratic Party is doing a 180 on that, well, I'm not.

The evidence was as good as it gets for a 527 (0.00 / 0)
The ad in question was actually pulled before increased disclosure requirements kicked in, but the group was run by various individuals (fundraisers, staffers, etc.) associated with Kerry and Gephardt, and it was later revealed that the Machinists' Union (who had endorsed Gephardt) gave the group $50,000.  

And the Clintons are the only heroes the party has had for 40 years?  Please.  Give me Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, Robert Drinan, or Russ Feingold any day.  While they were dealt a fairly bad legislative hand, they had multiple opportunities to assert themselves in defense and advocacy of progressive policies and principles and failed to do so.  

They were perfectly content to consolidate their personal power and take the middle road while we lost dozens of House seats and multiple Senate seats and governorships.  When vital programs were under attack, we got "the era of big government is over."  When we were faced with a jingoistic onslaught in favor of a terrible war, we got silence and complicity.  In this campaign in particular, but also in her Senate career, HRC has done nothing but drive to the right and reinforce many, many more right wing frames than has Obama (who is only less guilty, I might add).

While not universally true, plenty of the problems the Clintons encountered were of their own making, and they made certain choices, and they should have live by them just like anyone else.  To grant them any higher status, free from diligent scrutiny, would reflect poorly upon the judgment of any long time, upstanding member of the Democratic Party.

[ Parent ]
Her reputation is not in tatters. (0.00 / 0)
She's still a Democratic senator who has voted in line with the best values of the party on a host of issues. I've consistently seen Obama supporters online suggesting that she become Senate majority leader. She and Bill will continue to be leaders of the party.

Whatever negative campaigning has been done by the Obama campaign, however, Hillary isn't blameless. For example, she has herself been bringing up the substanceless "bitter" issue on the stump. Her campaign has produced an ad that brings it up. Her surrogates have been bringing up the also substanceless Wright issue as they speak to superdelegates.

We new Democrats who have joined the party in the past few years have been troubled in particular by the disdain Hillary has shown for the party itself.  In the interest of holding open her rapidly narrowing path to the nomination she has suggested that party leaders overturn the decisions made by the rank and file during the primary process. Her campaign has attempted to overturn the rules that the party's governing body - the DNC - imposed on this year's primary. She and her chief surrogate - Bill - have repeatedly offered straightforward praise of the Republican nominee while at the same time criticizing her Democratic opponent or giving him backhanded compliments.

The best spin you can put on this behavior is that Hillary is so concerned about Obama's electability that she has determined to do almost anything to save the party from itself. Maybe there's something to that. But surely her methods are open to question, especially since Obama seems more and more likely to win the nomination. If he does, than at some point she must convert her concerns about his candidacy into action - into full-bore, unreserved support for her party's nominee. If she does that - and I expect she will - then she will emerge from this contest with her reputation unharmed. If she doesn't, she will bear responsibility for what happens to her standing in the party.

[ Parent ]

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