Despite our differences on John McCain, sometimes it’s uncanny how much Bruce and I think alike. Last night, before bed, I sketched out some notes for this post where I would note, among other things that the Clintons do best when, in my co-blogger’s words, “they are on the ropes.” Like him, I reluctantly admire the former First Lady’s tenaciousness while abhorring her partisanship.
It goes without saying that Mrs. Clinton had big night last night. She won Ohio and Rhode Island comforably and Texas narrowly, losing only in Vermont. Her campaign did what it needed to do to save her from political death. Last night’s results put to rest the absurd notion that she’s been running a lousy campaign. The problem wasn’t the campaign, it was the “product” they were trying to sell.
Where she succeeded last night was not by making that product more palatable, but in raising questions about Senator Barack Obama, the only remaining alternative to that product in the Democratic market. Her team succeeded in tarnishing his image, causing voters to wonder about his qualifications to be Chief Executive. In short, last week, she made Obama the issue. And in the final three days before the primaries, she did so with the help of a news media, finally awakening to its responsibilities.
As John Hinderaker put it on Powerline, people are starting to treat Obama like “a normal politician,” subject to the tough questions all politicians get. And with questions being raised, he has begun to look absurd under fire, particularly when he walked away from a press conference, whining that he already had to answer eight questions.
Given the recent burst of stories critical of Obama in the MSM, it’s no wonder late deciders broke for Mrs. Clinton. In Ohio, she “won those who decided three days before by 26 points.” She won comfortably among late-deciders in the Lone Star State. (I also read in several places that late deciders broke two-to-one for the former First Lady.)
Ms. Hillary won not by convincing voters of her strengths and by appealing to their hopes, but instead by waging an effective negative campaign (seems she has learned a trick or two from her husband). Hugh Hewitt believes she “was rewarded by throwing anvils at the young and lightly credentialed Illinois senator, and by drawing attention to the Rezko trial.”
Hugh’s not the only way to attribute Mrs. Clinton’s success to her negative campaign. Writing in the Politico, Ben Smith observes:
Clinton’s lesson from Ohio and Texas is clear: Attacking Barack Obama directly works. Five days before the primary, she attacked his fitness to serve as commander in chief in a television advertisement depicting a late-night crisis at the White House. In the same short period she attacked his credibility on promises to rein in free trade.
Compiling a list of reasons for yesterday’s results, blogger Bruce Batista headlines his post, “How Obama Blew It,” citing, among other things, the Illinois Senator’s conflicting statements on NAFTA, his relationship to Tony Rezko and the aforementioned press conference. He concludes:
Most of the above explanations fall into the “Obama Lost” rather than “Hillary Won” category. . . . [Obama] is especially vulnerable now that he has been exposed to hostile-media kryptonite for the first time. It also shows that Clinton may have been selected by many voters as the â€œleast badâ€ option. Consequently, it is not apparent that either candidate will be particularly strong in the general election.
(Also via Instapundit.)
In short, Ms. Hillary won because of the effectiveness of her negative campaign. And now, with Obama vowing to sharpen his criticism of the former First Lady, we can expect an increasingly nasty campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Last night’s victories were not so much a sign of Hillary’s strength as of the effectiveness of the Clinton attack machine when the MSM joins the couple in piling on their adversaries. Even as these victories further expose Ms. Hillary’s weaknesses, Republicans can’t count on defeating Mrs. Clinton solely based on her high negatives, negatives certain to increase as she trades attacks with Senator Obama.
Just as she can only win the Democratic nomination by undermining her opponent, so too could she win the fall contest by attacking John McCain. Should she win the nomination, she’ll go all out to destroy this good man. We can only hope that his team is up to the politics of destruction that Hillary and her husband have practiced for as long as either of them has been in politics.