Hillary’s ‘What Ifs’

by Stephen Tall on May 10, 2008

There’s a fascinating article in the New York Magazine, Ten ‘What Ifs’ About Hillary Clinton’s Campaign – you can read it here. Here’s No. 9 on the list:

9. What if Clinton had gone magnanimous on Obama and the Reverend Wright?
The GOP strategist Alex Castellanos offers an intriguing theory about how Hillary might have reacted differently, and more effectively, to the issue that threatened to swallow Obama. “After the Reverend Wright controversy, Obama was suffering the worst press month of his campaign,” he says. “Hillary had a choice. She could have gotten bigger, more presidential, less political; she could have risen to defend Obama, saying, ‘This is outrageous and has no place in politics.’ Instead, she chose to become smaller, more political, less presidential. She diminished the value of the attacks on him by making them hers. Her instincts betrayed her. What if she had chosen to soar above a weakened Obama? That was her moment. And I believe she missed her last great opportunity to win this race.”

Political campaigns are hot-houses, none more so than internal party contests. The successful campaigns and campaigners are those which retain perspective, and can see things as they are seen from the outside.

The great achievement of Senator Obama’s campaign has been never to lose sight of his key message of change and hope. The ‘Reverend Wright affair’ was a moment for Senator Clinton to show some grace, and to repair relations with the African-American community, which have become so damaged by the off-piste comments of her campaign.

But she couldn’t step outside the hot-house, couldn’t see the bigger picture: she saw a sliver of weakness in her opponent, launched herself at his jugular, and lost her best, last chance to rescue her campaign.