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The Collective
Thursday, March 6, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Building off of a piece in the NY Post, James Joyner wonders: Al Gore to the Rescue?. James also notes some others’ reaction to the question. Ultimately, Joyner isn’t so convinced. Neither am I.

The basic notion is that Gore could be a compromise candidate, selected via the convention, in the event of an Obama-Clinton deadlock. I have heard this idea bandied about in several places, including on Tony Kornheiser’s radio show the other day, and have also had students raise the scenario. I know I have read the idea before as well, although I couldn’t say where.

There is a variation of the notion that Gore would come in to mediate between the campaigns.

First off, if Gore wanted to be a candidate, he would have run, and would have had a serious chance at winning the nomination. He chose not to do so in 2004 and demurred again in 2008. I think he has clearly decided he doesn’t want to be a candidate.

Second, there will be a nominee in the Democratic Party. With two contenders, the math inexorably will lead to someone with a majority of the delegates. The only question is how the superdelegates will line up, and why. Indeed, the mediation here is built into the process, and it is the existence of the superdelegates themselves. If we go through all of this without someone dropping out, then I expect that the superdelegates will basically align with the candidate with the most elected delegates. It is going to be difficult, once the voting is done, for the candidate with less delegates to make a strong argument that they should be the nominee. Of course, at the moment, the Clinton campaign appears to be laying the groundwork for arguments based on big states v. small states, red state v. blue state, and/or caucus states v. primary states, if they don’t have enough delegates. Still, I don’t think any of those will ultimately fly. Those are as much arguments to justify continuing the fight as anything else. Whether they are really willing to go nuclear when the time comes remains to be seen (although I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they do).

To restate: why would the lack of an absolute majority of elected delegates on the part of these two mean that the convention would head to an open ballot on the nomination?

Third, why would the party want to go through this big fight and then jettison both of the candidates who went through it only to hand the nomination to someone who did not campaign? How would that heal the party? Why would the supporters of the candidate who won the most elected delegates find solace in having then nomination taken from their candidate and handed to Gore? Wouldn’t such a move be saying that all of the work, all the support, all the voting that took place during the primary season simply meant nothing? What signal is that to the voters of the Democratic Party?

Fourth, could Gore, the man who won the popular vote in 2000, yet lost the electoral vote, come in and deny the candidate with the most votes and/or delegates the nomination? Would he really retain his moral authority if he were to engage in such an action? Isn’t part of Gore’s appeal within Democratic circles in the notion that he was cheated out of the presidency? I think that such a proposition is more problematic than many who support Gore’s intervention realize.

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14 Comments

  1. I agree that the Gore scenario is unlikely, but I disagree with most of the rest of the post.

    With two contenders, the math inexorably will lead to someone with a majority of the delegates.

    That is not so. There is no inexorable reason why either of the two current candidates will have a majority of all the delegates. Bionic (”super”) delegates-or a sufficient number of them-could refuse to vote for either. Then there is a deadlock, and the holdouts are in a position to bargain. I don’t expect this to happen, but it is not out of the question.

    To the question of whether the bionic delegates will simply vote with the candidate who has won the most elected delegates, I say then, why have the “superdelegates” in the first place? If they are to be mere mirrors, then they are superfluous, other than as an honorific title. They have a legitimate institutional role, and if they choose to use that to sway the result, they can do so. They may choose not to do so, of course.

    As to whether Gore would have any moral authority if he won the nomination this way, given what happened in 2000, there is a vast difference between that election and this hypothetical scenario. Gore did not lose the electoral vote after winning the popular vote nationally. He lost the Florida vote tabulation despite winning the popular vote in that state. And he lost a vote on a Supreme Court that has no legally or constitutionally legitimated role in settling presidential election disputes. “Superdelegates,” on the other hand, are an ex-ante known feature of the Democratic Party’s nomination process.

    Comment by MSS — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  2. What do you think about the argument that is currently being made that if the super delegates give the nomination to Clinton when Obama has the most elected delegates it will tear the Democratic Party apart? I think that it could well be an extremely unpopular move, but would it be enough to destroy the party?

    Comment by Jan — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  3. I don’t think a Clinton win via convention in the face of an Obama popular vote win would tear the democratic party apart. I think it would mean a landslide victory for John McCain, and would probably cause the democratic party to re-think the way it nominates presidential candidates - but tear the party asunder, it would not.

    In fact, I think it will actually play out that way. I think that it is naively idealistic to think that the superdelegates - particularly those that are not elected officials and thus not publicly accountable in any way whatsoever - will align themselves with the candidate who has the larger number of delegates going into the convention simply because “it’s the right thing to do.” No; these individuals will vote how they see fit, and a lot of things will influence the way they vote. Even those candidates who are elected officials will not necessarily vote the way their constituents did. Those that are not up for re-election this year, and those incumbents who have a safe enough majority of support (Dennis Kucinich comes to mind) will not be obligated to do “what the people want;” they will do what’s best for them.

    I believe that Hillary Clinton began preparing to campaign for superdelegates when she fired Patti Doyle and replaced her with Maggie Williams. Williams is a trusted and experienced part of the Clinton family’s political life, and I believe her primary job as Clinton’s new campaign manager is to help bring the family’s substantial political capital to the table to influence the voting of the superdelegates. If she hangs until the convention, I believe she will have a substantially greater chance of walking away with the nomnination than Obama, because the Clintons have a greater bank of political capital to draw from than he does.

    Probably, Clinton began courting the non-elected superdelegates in earnest after Super Tuesday last month. She will continue to quietly strike deals with them until August. Shaking up her staff back in February was all about the superdelegates, not her public campaign, and should be seen as a signal that Clinton is more than willing to take the fight to the convention. That’s where the real campaigning is happening - with the superdelegates.

    As for Al Gore - he is not a viable candidate, even if it were plausible that he would become one at the convention. Since his defeat in 2000, he has gone too far to the left in his writings on forums like MoveOn.org, and could not get votes from centrists. McCain would be a much more appealing choice to the swing voter and Gore would lose badly.

    Comment by Captain D. — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  4. FWIW, I don’t think a SD alignment to the candidate with the majority of delegates will be done out of altruism or a sense of fair play, I think they will so align because it will not be lost on them that a move to the candidate with less delegates, especially if it is Clinton, will lead to a loss in November.

    A loss in November will mean less power for the SDs, especially the non-elected ones.

    Power calculations and self-interest will ultimately rule the day-and jumping to Clinton, if Obama has the most elected delegates, will not be seen as the wisest of moves.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 2:46 pm

  5. I guess my thinking is that the Clinton camp can offer a great deal even in defeat, and can also offer a great deal in terms of short-term gain. She will remain a senator if she loses, still carrying a lot of institutional power. Obama will also remain a senator if he loses, but one whose political and financial capital will be far more depleted than the junior senator from New York’s. If I was an SD in the democratic party, I’m not sure a Clinton loss in November would be so much worse for me than an Obama win, if I backed Hillary at the convention. It would depend on what she had to offer me; she can offer a lot even in defeat, probably more than Obama could offer in defeat. If I back Obama, I probably need him to win in order to get a return on my investment. With Clinton, maybe I can get a return even if she loses.

    I just think the interplay between the SD’s and the candidates is going to be a complex dance that the Clinton’s will have more lessons on than Obama.

    Comment by Captain D. — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  6. The underlying question that is not being addressed here (even by me, in my first comment) is whether we will even know who has won the “popular vote.”

    Is it reported? I tally it (and report it periodically lat Fruits & Votes), but because of the arcaneness factor of caucuses, I have to make decision rules about what to include and what not. (No actual votes are reported for Iowa and Nevada, for example.) Do Florida’s and Michigan’s votes currently count towards the popular vote total, or not? (There were, supposedly, no delegates at stake there, and in Michigan, Obama was not on the ballot, nor was Edwards, who was still otherwise active at the time.)

    And it is entirely possible that, even if the “popular vote winner” were knowable, that the winner of the most elected (pledged) delegates could be the other candidate, due to malapportionment, even-magnitude districts, and other elements of the delegate-allocation process that distort the translation of votes into delegates.

    As for the bionics, if they should vote with the “popular vote” winner, even if we know who that is, does that mean the winner of their state? Their district (in the case of a House member)? Nationally? Or what?

    Again, I see no justification for the claim that bionic (’super’) delegates should vote along with the popular vote (however defined), nor any reason to expect that they will. If that is their role, then they are superfluous. The institution exists to add an element of deliberation and bargaining (”horse trading”). Or bribery. Or whatever. But not to be mirrors.

    Comment by MSS — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  7. To Matthew’s point: surely, though, in their deliberations they should be trying to figure out what the best move for the party would be, which means, at this stage, November.

    Of course, it very much depends on what the state of things are at the time that they are called to act. How muddled is the situation/how clear?

    I think that the likely scenarios are such that being mirrors, more or less, will be the party’s best interest. But, that is just a guess at this point (but, I would like to think, an educated one).

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

  8. they should be trying to figure out what the best move for the party would be

    That assumes (1) that what is in the party’s best interest is knowable, and (2) that the interests of the individual politicians are aligned with the collective interests of the party.

    I am not about to assume either of those, especially the second. (And consider whether “the party” here means as a national organization, electoral label, etc., as opposed state or local-level concerns.)

    I do not doubt that they all want their party to win, but they are sure to diverge over what that would take, as well as face the usual coordination and collective-action problems of group action in the absence of strong central sanctioning power. Given a move that is perceived certain to improve one’s own position, but at the risk of maybe decreasing the probability that the ticket wins in November, how many will choose the collective interest? I think that, too, is unknowable. But it’s the elephant in the room-OK, make that the fat donkey-that will have to be confronted.

    Comment by MSS — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  9. Fair enough, especially about (2).

    I will confess, that I am assuming that what is going to happen is that when all is said and done, Obama is going to be objectively ahead of Clinton, but not have the magic number needed. From there, a scenario in which Clinton has less elected delegates and probably less popular votes (as best as can be determined-and point taken on the problems with that number), and yet emerges as the party’s candidate will not be in the best interest of the Democratic Party if one assume that the goal is the best chance of winning in November.

    If Clinton is perceived by a large number of Obama supporters as having stolen the nomination, that will radically hamper the enthusiasm of a substantial chunk of the Democratic electorate going forward (and will depress turnout). Further, if Clinton is perceived to have stolen the nomination, I think that many of the “independents” will be far more inclined to vote for McCain.

    All of this is, in my mind, the most likely route to a McCain win (and you know that I think that the Democrats are far more likely to win at than are the Reps).

    So, I suppose it fair to say that under my current way of thinking, I think that I have some idea of your (1), and that it will be knowable/understood by enough of the bionics to affect their behavior, and hence have a “mirror” effect, on balance.

    Now, if things are more muddled (such as one candidate has a clear lead in votes, another a clear lead in elected delegates) then much of these assumptions go out the window.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  10. Well - after all the banter - things still look up in the air to me.

    I guess at the very least we have fodder to blog about for the next couple of months - probably we’ll be making the same arguments until August.

    Comment by Captain D. — Thursday, March 6, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

  11. Matthew,

    I somehow missed your first post.

    I would say this: granted, the superdelegates could refuse to vote for either candidate. I would count that as a theoretical possibility so unlikely as to be not a real one.

    As such, there are going to only be two choices and so there.

    Even bargaining, which I will allow is possible, will lead to either votes for Obama or Clinton, except in scenarios that I don’t think are possible enough to discuss.

    Let’s put it this way: I think that the Texas Rangers have a far better chance of winning the World Series than the DNC producing a candidate other than Obama or Clinton. A far, far better chance.

    I understand your argument about Gore, and we disagree about the vote count in Florida itself and I think the court involvement is more of a gray area-and one that started with the state courts. The appropriate constitutional venue for dispute, as I understand it, was the state legislature and then the US House.

    Still, I think you are discounting the perception of such a move by voters and the way it would be addressed in the press. Institutionally you have a point, but if such a scenario were to emerge, the public reaction, especially within the Democratic faithful, would come into play.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, March 7, 2008 @ 7:19 am

  12. Hillary had a chance before Texas/Ohio to campaign with dignity and eschew attacks on the very popular Barrack Obama. She chose instead to take the dark path. Barrack Obama had a chance at the same time to show he can remain on the high road and yet rapidly refute attacks by Clinton. Instead, he chose to remain above it all, lost the popular vote in both Texas and Ohio, and (rightly or wrongly) surrendered a measure of his credibility with other voters over the Canada-NAFTA flap.

    While I like many qualities of each candidate, I am truly concerned they will continue to wound the other until by convention time both are so crippled that neither has much of a chance of beating McCain-Hagge (or whoever McCain cynically selects for V-P).

    Al Gore would be the best candidate the Democrats could field this Fall. He has the resume, skills, and experience to make a terrific president. He is held in high regard by almost every Democrat and Independent, and even many Republicans, not to mention the world at large. He was right about global warming, right about the internet, right about NAFTA, right about Iraq, right about the unconstitutional power grabs of the Bush administration, and he was right about the economy. He won the 2000 popular vote and, but for a single vote on the Supreme Court, would have won a majority of electoral votes, too.

    Yes, it is an “unlikely” scenario to have some third person nominated on a later ballot after Clinton and Obama fall short of a majority. But far from impossible for Al Gore. After all, he has creds no one else can match, both as a lifelong Democrat who has run in presidential primaries and general elections before. The fact that he didn’t participate in this year’s primary circus (which everyone today is so sorry wasn’t wrapped up after New Hampshire!) is the weakest argument imaginable against nominating him.

    Moreover, the likely closeness of the delegate count for Clinton and Obama make it equally unlikely either will compromise. The large swing vote power of the uncommitted super-delegates is another important element.

    The most likely scenario to pull off a Gore nomination in Denver is for Obama to throw his votes to Gore in exchange for Gore naming him as the V-P candidate. Most super-delegates would quickly go along. After all, they are among the most worried about fielding a top-of-the-ticket candidate who has been weakened by a long and bruising primary campaign,

    Sure, Clinton insiders and operatives would be furious, but who cares? They’ve been ruining the party for years. Clinton support among the nation’s voters, on the other hand, is an inch deep. Most of them — the vast majority, if polls and anecdotal evidence is to be believed — would cheerfully switch to a Gore-Obama ticket because, just like Al Gore, their larger concern is to restore competence, honesty, and sound vision to Government.

    Comment by John B. — Friday, March 7, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  13. I question strongly the soundness of the claim that Gore can appeal to either centrists or current registered republicans in significant numbers. His popularity post 2000 has been almost exclusively in the environmentalist movement on the left, and I don’t think he has anywhere near the popular appeal that you think he has.

    Moreover, his involvement in the human-driven global warming theory (the science behind which is really quite inconclusive when viewed in balance) would be a huge obstacle to overcome, considering that the policies he advocates for would isolate him from support from organized labor as well as the large chunk of Americans who don’t buy the theories proferred in “An Inconvenient Truth.”

    Gore did not run this year because he would not have been a viable candidate even if he did participate in the process, and he knew it from the start. He dynamited any bridges that could carry him to the white house years ago.

    Comment by Captain D. — Friday, March 7, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

  14. Let us not forget that Edwards still has 26 pledged delegates. As a result, there is still a mathematical possibility of neither candidate acquiring a majority of the delegates on the first ballot even if every single super delegate votes for either Obama or Clinton on the first ballot, which is not a definite considering the circumstances.

    The Democrats are facing a deadlocked convention. If it ends up going to a second ballot, with Clinton leading in the super delegate count, Obama would be wise to cut a deal with Gore. If it looks like the Clinton camp is about to derail him from getting on the ticket, his best bet would be to go up to the podium, say that the party needs to be united and ready to face the Republicans, and proceed to nominate Gore from the floor of the convention himself. Gore humbly accepts the nomination, calls for unity and immediately says that Obama will be his running mate. Their motto becomes, “Experience & Hope.” There is absolutely no way Hillary could muster the support to overcome Obama and Gore in this scenario.

    Gore/Obama = The most experience, the most hope, and the least amount of secrecy, baggage and mudslinging.

    Comment by Anon83 — Saturday, March 8, 2008 @ 3:36 am

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