Hillary Clinton Wants to Change the Rules - Again

26 January 2008

Last year, the DNC decided that only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would be permitted to hold primaries/caucuses prior to Super-Mega Tuesday. This was done to avoid the endless jockeying to be the first primary state - and, hence, the focus of national attention. Michigan and Florida, however, broke those rules and attempted to push their primaries forward. In response, the DNC stripped them of all their delegates. Of course, this was a very strong reaction, effectively stripping the states of their say in who gets elected. But all of the major Democratic candidates agreed to this, explicitly promising not to "participate" in any of these states. In fact, all of the major candidates took their name off the ballot for Michigan. All of the candidates, that is, except for Hillary Clinton. Now that she has won the Michigan primary, being the only major candidate on the ballot, she wants those delegates to count.

This is a transparent power-grab, and an unethical attempt to game the system. Particularly since this is such a close race, and it could ultimately be decided by a very close delegate-count.

Josh Marshall has a post up at TPM about Hillary Clinton's attempt to change the primary rules mid-stream:

The Clinton camp really needs to be shut down on this new gambit of theirs to muscle the party and the other candidates into seating the Michigan and Florida delegate slates.

And let me be very clear about what I mean. It was very debatable decision whether the DNC should have punished Florida and Michigan with the loss of their delegates slates because they broke the rules the party had set down for scheduling their primaries. By 'debatable' I don't mean it was right or wrong, only that it was a pretty draconian move and I know there was a lot of discussion about whether or not it was the right thing to do.

But that was the decision -- one that each of the candidates at least implicitly agreed to. Indeed, each agreed not to campaign in either of these states, again implicitly agreeing to the decision not to seat the delegates.

The Clinton camp is just pushing to seat these delegates now because the contingencies of the moment mean that the decision would favor Hillary. She was the only one whose name was on the ballot in Michigan, thus insuring her win. She has a wide lead in every Florida poll taken this month.

Even Michigan was a matter of her basically pulling a fast one on the other candidates by not taking her name off the ballot. Each of the major candidates signed a pledge not to "campaign or participate" in any primary or caucus prior to Feb. 5th except for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The other major candidates adopted what seems like the only reasonable interpretation of the pledge (see text here) and pulled their names from the ballot.

But then Hillary didn't, thus in essence guaranteeing her win in Michigan.

The Clinton campaign said taking her name off the ballot wasn't required by the pledge. But what can "participate" mean over and above "campaigning" other than formally being a candidate in the race?

In any case, by gaming the process Clinton already insured her win in Michigan, though it seemed only for a symbolic victory, not real delegates.

But all these particulars are secondary to the principle, which is that you don't change the rules in midstream to favor one candidate or another. This is no more than a replay, with different factual particulars, of the attempt to outlaw the at-large caucuses in Nevada after the Culinary Union endorsement made it appear they would help Barack Obama.

Perhaps there's some detail of this question that I'm not aware of. And if there is I'll revise my opinion accordingly. But based on what I know now this is pretty clear-cut.

Hillary can muscle for every advantage she wants. Good for her. She's a fighter. But everyone else should see this for what it is and say No.

That really seems to sum things up well. She did the same exact thing in Nevada, where she had all the time in the world to complain about the at-large precincts the DNC approved months in advance. There was not a single protest from Clinton when she thought she could benefit from the at-large precincts. But as soon as Obama secured the culinary union's endorsement, Clinton protested (with some dubious claims that the casino votes would count "five times" as much as anyone else's).

Can't she just play by the pre-decided rules and let the voters evaluate each candidate on the merits?

UPDATE: Just to remind everyone, Clinton was only able to secure 55% of the Michigan vote, despite being the only major candidate on the ballot. That means that a significant number of Michigan voters preferred to count themselves as "undecided."

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