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Why Hillary Should Take The Huckabee Route

On Meet The Press this morning, David Brooks said this:

I think she should slow down the campaign, run what Mike Huckabee ran, a dignified campaign, not attacking her opponents, go through North Carolina and then get out.  She really has very little opportunity to win.  The Jeremiah Wright thing was big, the big scandal, the biggest thing Barack Obama's faced really in months.  It didn't hurt him.  We now have the polling results from poll after poll.  It's clear it didn't hurt him.  The voters were not shaken off him.  The--Michigan and Florida are not going to revote, the superdelegates are never going to overrule the pledge delegates, so her chances are really small.

The conventional wisdom, best explained (and partly shaped!) by Jon Chait a few weeks ago, is that Hillary Clinton can only win the Democratic nomination by destroying Barack Obama. After casting enough doubts about his candidacy to win over voters in the next ten contests, the Clintonites would be able to stoke fears about his experience and electability with a clear majority of superdelegates. Sure, the thinking goes, this might harm the party, but what other chance does she have?

As Brooks points out, however, her strategy has not worked. While he has fallen slightly in head-to-head match-ups with McCain, Obama still outperforms Clinton and has recaptured his lead among Democratic primary voters (Gallup has him up by double digits today for the first time this year). Moreover, the fact that the Wright controversy has barely caused a blip in the polls must be very worrisome for the Clinton campaign. To sum it all up, then, Clinton's only remaining plan seems almost sure to fail.  But as Brooks points out, there is the Huckabee option.

Why is this a good idea? First off, it would engender some good will toward Senator Clinton within the party and among Obama's supporters. Second, it would leave a better taste in the mouths of those who might consider backing Clinton in 2012 should Obama lose to McCain. And most importantly, it allows her to stay in the game in case something catastrophic occurs. Brooks and Peter Beinart, Tim Russert's other guest today, both agreed that Clinton's chances are no better than 5%. That seems about right. And a lot of that 5% can be explained by the possibility of a huge scandal--never out of the question in politics. Since she is not going to win without a giant event, what does she gain by an ugly, divisive contest?

A corollary point to this is about political junkies--myself included. It's east to get caught up in by the day-to-day news cycle or the minor controversy of the week or the latest superdelegate endorsement. And this stuff counts, especially when perceptions are beginning to form and every last voter in Iowa may make the crucial difference. But right now--at least as far as the Democratic primary is concerned--these things do not matter. Clinton needs a major earthquake, and if she does not get one she will lose. So why not slow things down a bit, hope for a scandal to break, and then drop out if there are no game changers?

--Isaac Chotiner