The Blog

Why Hillary Clinton's Slash-and-Burn Politics May Hurt Her More Than Obama

I've talked to a number of undecided Super Delegate Members of Congress who are furious at Hillary's willingness to attack the candidate who they consider almost certain to be the Democratic nominee.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The only way for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination would be a precipitous collapse in Barack Obama's candidacy. Obama's pledged-delegate lead is virtually insurmountable. And Super Delegates seem increasingly inclined to go with the pledged-delegate winner.

Rather than respect the outcome of the primaries, the Clintons have decided to do everything they can to make Obama appear to be a risky general election choice to the remaining Super Delegates and the media. But Clinton's negative tactics may actually hurt her candidacy more than they hurt Obama's. There are three reasons:

First, a negative attack has to ring true to the people you are attempting to persuade. Initial polls seem to indicate that most of the people who are receptive to the "Obama-is-a-condescending-'elitist'-argument" already supported Hillary in the primary before the attacks began. Clinton's attacks may rally some of her troops, but the argument doesn't seem to be that persuasive to actual undecided voters.

Of course one reason may have to do with the credibility of the messenger. It's tough to attack someone else for "elitism" if you've spent the last 16 years in Washington as First Lady and Senator, and your family brought in $107 million over the last seven years. Assuming an eight-hour workday, that means that Bill and Hillary made as much every two hours as Barack Obama made each full year that he organized out-of-work steelworkers for a coalition of church groups.

Second, the fact of a negative attack itself can backwash on the candidate who makes it. Making negative attacks makes people look mean and unlikable. That is a particular problem when the audience for your attacks includes Democratic primary voters and Super Delegates who really want to win the White House in November.

Clinton's negative attacks on Obama have especially begun to backfire with Super Delegates. I've talked to a number of undecided Super Delegate Members of Congress who are furious at her willingness to attack the candidate who they consider almost certain to be the Democratic nominee.

Most think that Clinton has no more than a 10% chance of winning the nomination, so the odds are great that she is doing nothing now but legitimating the Republican narrative for the general election. The story line that Democrats are "elitists" who look down on middle class people is taken right out of Karl Rove's playbook. It's been used for decades to convince everyday Americans to re-elect Republicans that outsource their jobs, destroy their unions and lower their wages. Many Democratic Super Delegates are apoplectic that Clinton would give credibility to that Republican line of attack on their likely standard-bearer.

We've already seen examples of high profile Super Delegates (like Bill Richardson) who have gone with Obama partially because of Clinton's negativism. We'll likely see many more.

Finally, her attacks have allowed the Obama campaign - and the media - to parody her desperate attempts to appear "working class." When Obama conjured up images of Hillary Clinton sitting in a duck blind it called to mind those unforgettable pictures of Michael Dukakis in a tank.

People want leaders who are self-confident, who are comfortable in their own skin. Candidates need to connect with voters by demonstrating the things that they really share, not pretending to be someone they are not. Hillary Clinton is a long time advocate for gun control - not "Annie Oakley." Shooting back Crown Royal with a beer chaser in a neighborhood tap just isn't Hillary Clinton.

The Clintons may have viewed Obama's "bitterness" remark as the opportunity they'd been looking for to throw a long "Hail Mary" pass in the closing minutes of the primary battle. I'm betting Barack Obama picks it off and runs it back for a touch down.

Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on

Popular in the Community