HILLARY IN 2012?….In the event that she fails to win the Democratic nomination, is Hillary Clinton actively hoping that Barack Obama loses in November, thus opening up the possibility of another Hillary run in 2012? Matt Yglesias says yes, your humble blogger says no, Jon Chait says sorta yes, and Ezra Klein says probably no.

Roughly speaking, the evidence on the Yes side is that Hillary is continuing to run a take-no-prisoners campaign even though she has no chance of winning the nomination. Why else would she be doing that except to tear down Obama and reduce his chances of beating John McCain in November? The No side basically believes that candidates routinely keep running campaigns long after independent observers have written them off (see McCain, John Sidney, c. 2007), so that doesn’t really mean anything. Hillary might be making a mistake, but she’s not deliberately torpedoing the Democratic Party.

Today, Mike Tomasky weighs in with “a finger on the scale” in favor of Yes, but I think he really makes a better case for No. He starts off by saying that losing candidates in any primary election — mayors, governors, presidents, dogcatchers — can’t help but think that their chances will be better in the next election if their primary opponent loses. And that’s true enough. But do they do more than daydream about it?

Here’s where things get dicey for Hillary 2012. If she were seen by a significant portion of Democrats as not having done all she could for Obama in 2008, she’d face massive hostility in 2010 when she started making noises about running again. So she has to be active in helping him, which of course creates a sort of double paradox: she has to work hard for the very outcome that works against her own future interests, knowing that said work is the only thing that will in fact help her future interests! Got it?

….But then, there is one more factor, and it is crucial. Even if all the above happens, Clinton will still be in the Senate. And she needs to be a better, more aggressive, more courageous senator than she has been….She could not come back to Democrats in another four years as a warmed-over version of the person who cast that cowardly Iraq vote, still drinking every potion Mark Penn places before her, and expect to be taken seriously.

In the second paragraph, Tomasky suggests a path to redemption for Hillary, a sort of RFK transformation that sets her up as a true liberal choice in 2012. Maybe — though she doesn’t seem the type, frankly. But it’s the first paragraph that’s key. The Clinton machine obviously has its admirers, but I think it’s held together mainly by its reputation for winning, not by any widespread warmth for Hillary. If she loses, that reputation vanishes. What’s more, if she’s already under suspicion of sabotaging the party merely because she’s continuing to run her primary campaign, what are the odds she can escape unscathed if Obama actually goes on to lose? No matter what kind of support she gives him, I’d say slim and none.

Anything can happen in four years. But Democrats have never been very kindly disposed toward primary losers, and Hillary sure doesn’t seem likely to be an exception. I’m putting my money on her being smart enough to know this. In fact, Occam’s razor suggests that this is why she’s waging such a tough campaign. Not because she thinks it will set her up for 2012, but because she knows perfectly well this is her last chance.

UPDATE: On the more substantive question of whether Hillary continues to have a chance of beating Obama, Mori Dinauer glosses David Brooks, who “argues today that this past week has actually been bad for Clinton, not Obama, by noting three phenomena: Obama successfully weathered the Jeremiah Wright flap without suffering permanent campaign damage; re-votes were prevented in Michigan and Florida; the superdelegates are beginning to accept that they must line up behind the pledged delegate winner.”

I think that’s right. Her chances have gone from small to minuscule.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!