Hillary Clinton should be called on her duplicity, in calling on Bernie Sanders to “stop attacking Hillary” or even to drop out of the race. Eight years ago, she was on the opposite side. Read the review of her 2008 campaign rhetoric by
To tell you the truth, I never thought I’d have to write this article. I fully expected someone else to dig this stuff out, if the calls for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race (or “say nice things about Hillary Clinton”) began. Now that they have, I still haven’t seen any detailed reminders of how the 2008 Democratic primary race ended yet. So I went ahead and dug them out on my own.
What follows is a review of the last few weeks of the 2008 primary, for those who have forgotten what it was like. All of these articles come from the Washington Post (because it made the database search easier, mostly). I apologize for not providing links; this is due to the fact that I retrieved the articles from a commercial database (with a paywall).
All of the following articles were published from mid-April to the first week in June of 2008. In other words, exactly eight years ago. I’m going to present them with only limited commentary (to only provide any needed historical context).
One more thing before I begin, in the interests of fairness. While Hillary Clinton did fight hard until the end, she is to be credited for two strategic moves from roughly the same period of time. First, she largely refused to attack Barack Obama in the midst of all the “Reverend Wright” mudslinging. She easily could have piled on, along with the rest of the political universe. She didn’t. Secondly, during the time period below, Clinton had a stock line she threw in to most of her speeches (even the ones quoted below): “I will work my heart out for the Democratic Party and the party’s eventual nominee.” She signaled that she would work for Obama’s election if she lost, which was rightly seen as a big step towards party unity.
With those caveats firmly in place, though, let’s take a look at the end of Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Just before the Pennsylvania primary, from an article titled “Obama Sharpens His Tone; As Pa. Vote Nears, Clinton Criticizes Rival’s Negative Turn,” Clinton showed her displeasure at Obama’s attacks on her health care reform plan (which, at the time, had a mandate for coverage that Obama did not support):
Clinton, campaigning in Bethlehem, called her rival’s approach “so negative” and charged him with mimicking Republicans by attacking her plan for universal health care.
“He has sent out mailers, he has run ads, misrepresenting what I have proposed,” Clinton said. “I really regret that because the last thing we need is to have somebody spending as much money as he has downgrading universal health care.”
From an April 22 article entitled “Clinton in the Wilderness,” a previous and very personal slight towards Obama was noted:
But she [Clinton] has gone too far — too much disturbing stuff, some of it shocking in its coarseness. For instance, she added the coy “as far as I know” to her 60 Minutes statement that Obama is not a Muslim.
Clinton used some inartful language in an interview with USA Today, which Eugene Robinson pointed out on May 9 (“The Card Clinton Is Playing”):
From the beginning, Hillary Clinton has campaigned as if the Democratic nomination were hers by divine right. That’s why she is falling short — and that’s why she should be persuaded to quit now, rather than later, before her majestic sense of entitlement splits the party along racial lines.
If that sounds harsh, look at the argument she made Wednesday, in an interview with USA Today, as to why she should be the nominee instead of Barack Obama. She cited an Associated Press article “that found how Senator Obama’s support… among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.”
As a statement of fact, that’s debatable at best. As a rationale for why Democratic Party superdelegates should pick her over Obama, it’s a slap in the face to the party’s most loyal constituency — African Americans — and a repudiation of principles the party claims to stand for. Here’s what she’s really saying to party leaders: There’s no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you’ll be sorry.
How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.
On May 20, in an ironically-titled article “Democrats Observe A Fragile Cease-Fire,” the Clinton campaign tried to equate Obama with George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” photo:
Obama is favored to win the Oregon primary today, and Clinton is an even stronger favorite to win the Kentucky contest. But Obama will not celebrate primary night in either of those states. Instead, he has chosen to be in Iowa, where his victory in the caucuses in January turned the Democratic race upside down. There, at a rally in Des Moines, he is expected to declare that he has secured a majority of the pledged delegates currently eligible to attend August’s Democratic convention in Denver.
Obama and his advisers insist the event will stop short of a declaration that he has won the nomination. But it will be seen as another signal to superdelegates to climb aboard his bandwagon as quickly as possible.
The celebration, however, has rankled the Clinton campaign and the candidate herself. They see it as a highhanded effort to embarrass her and to generate renewed calls from others in the party for her to quit the race before anyone has achieved a genuine majority of pledged delegates and superdelegates.
In a signal of how fragile the detente between the two sides is, the Clinton campaign sent out a tart memo yesterday under the name of communications director Howard Wolfson calling the Obama rally in Iowa “a slap in the face of millions of voters in the remaining primary states and to Senator Clinton’s 17 million supporters.” Then, in language tying the Obama campaign to the Bush White House, the memo continues: “Premature victory laps and false declarations of victory are unwarranted. Declaring mission accomplished does not make it so.”
On May 23, Hillary Clinton said something downright despicable. There’s just no other word to describe her insinuation. From “Hillary Clinton Raises the Specter of the Unspeakable,” here is Hillary musing on a possible end to the Democratic nomination race:
Smart candidates don’t invoke the possibility of their opponents being killed. This seems so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently, it needs to be said.
“We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California,” Hillary Clinton said yesterday, referencing the fact that past nomination contests have stretched into June to explain why she hasn’t heeded calls to exit the Democratic race. She was in an editorial board meeting with a South Dakota newspaper, and she didn’t even seem to notice she’d just uttered the unutterable.
The nation’s political science students, our future strategists and campaign managers, would do well to pay attention to this moment. There are taboos in presidential politics, and this is one of the biggest. To raise the specter of a rival’s assassination, even unintentionally, is to make a truly terrible thing real. It sounds like one might be waiting for a terrible thing to happen, even if one isn’t. It sounds almost like wishful thinking.
She had to immediately apologize, but within the apology article (“Clinton Sorry For Remark About RFK Assassination; Comment Was Made in Reference to Primaries”) were a few other slights she had recently made (there was an enormous battle over whether the Florida and Michigan delegations would count at the convention, since they had defied D.N.C. rules by scheduling their primaries too early):
Hillary Clinton’s reference to the shooting of Robert Kennedy on June 6, 1968, after he had just won the California primary, hardened feelings in the Obama campaign once more, following a brief thaw as it appeared that Clinton would seek to unite the party in the final weeks of the campaign. Her allusion came on the heels of two other comments over the past few days that the Obama campaign described as off-putting: her reference to the Michigan and Florida delegations as similar to the fraudulent elections in Zimbabwe, and her comparison of that dispute to the ballot recount in the 2000 presidential election.
Not mentioned in this article was the fact that she had also compared the battle over seating the delegations “with the abolition of slavery” (from a May, 25 article, “To Claim Popular Vote, Clinton Is Seeking Wins In Last 3 Primaries”).
On the very last day of primary voting, when Montana and South Dakota put Barack Obama over the top in the delegate count, Clinton essentially refused to concede his victory. From a June 3 article, “Obama Claims The Democratic Presidential Nomination,” the key line in the speech she gave:
Obama scored his final primary victory in Montana and was quickly endorsed by the state’s governor as well as the two Democratic senators. Clinton, meanwhile, claimed a come-from-behind victory in South Dakota, after trailing in the state for weeks.
Clinton, who spoke roughly 30 minutes before Obama at Baruch College in New York City, congratulated the Illinois senator for the “extraordinary race” he ran, although she did not acknowledge he had effectively won the nomination and stressed that “I will be making no decisions tonight” about her future plans.
For more context, from her speech transcript that night:
Now, the question is: Where do we go from here? And given how far we’ve come and where we need to go as a party, it’s a question I don’t take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight.
But this has always been your campaign. So, to the 18 million people who voted for me, and to our many other supporters out there of all ages, I want to hear from you. I hope you’ll go to my Web site at HillaryClinton.com and share your thoughts with me and help in any way that you can.
And in the coming days, I’ll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way.
From an article (“Obama Is Poised To Clinch Victory; Clinton Ponders Options at Finish Line”) filed the same day:
As Clinton made a final push for votes across South Dakota, her advisers said her options ranged from dropping out Tuesday night and endorsing Obama to making a final effort to convince uncommitted superdelegates that she would be a stronger rival to McCain.
Another, according to senior Clinton advisers, is what they dubbed the “middle option,” for Clinton to suspend her campaign, acknowledging that Obama has crossed the delegate threshold but keeping her options open until the convention in late August. Advisers said she is looking at historical precedent while weighing her recent victories, including her landslide win in Puerto Rico, in trying to sort out what to do.
Clinton has been angered by recent calls for her to quit, her advisers said, and the “soft landing” of suspending her campaign would allow her to move ahead on her own terms.
Speaking to reporters in Sioux Falls, S.D., spokesman Mo Elleithee was unequivocal, saying that Clinton intends to spend the next several days “making the case to undecided delegates” and adding: “She’s in this race until we have a nominee. She expects to be that nominee.”
On June 6, Barack Obama met with Hillary Clinton in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s house in Washington. The next day — a full four days after the last primary finished — she finally announced the end of her campaign (from “Clinton to Publicly Withdraw, Support Obama”):
After a tumultuous 17-month journey, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) will formally withdraw as a presidential candidate today, publicly declaring her support for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) for the first time since he secured the Democratic nomination.
Clinton drew the wrath of many Democrats when she did not acknowledge Obama’s victory in her speech on Tuesday night. Her farewell address to supporters, scheduled for noon today at the National Building Museum at Fourth and F streets NW, is intended to repair any lingering damage from the Tuesday speech and will close the door on an epic primary campaign that, after dividing Democrats, produced the first African American presumptive nominee of any major party in history.
The former rivals made progress in their search for common ground during a clandestine hour-long meeting at the home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday night. Details of the sit-down, held in Feinstein’s living room, began to emerge as Clinton aides turned in their cellphones, packed up their offices and put the finishing touches on her much-anticipated speech.
“Hillary will be holding an event tomorrow in Washington D.C. to thank all of her supporters, to express her support for Senator Obama, and to talk about the issues that have been at the core of her public service, the issues she will continue fighting for,” campaign manager Maggie Williams wrote in a letter yesterday inviting supporters to attend the gathering. The e-mail doubled as a fundraising solicitation — a reminder of the nearly $30 million in debt that Clinton will seek to retire.
Now, even with such a tumultuous end to the Democratic primary campaign, Hillary Clinton eventually made good on her promise to “campaign her heart out” for Obama. She personally put him over the top in the delegate voting on the convention floor (being a senator, she was also a superdelegate). Eventually, after winning the general election, Barack Obama appointed her Secretary of State (there were many rumors at the time that Bill Clinton was pushing hard for her to be named as Obama’s running mate, but obviously that didn’t come to pass).
Hillary Clinton worked for party unity, but only after a very hard-fought and contentious primary season. I offer these reminders up because now she finds herself in the opposite role. And it seems like everyone’s memory has gone fuzzy when recalling the final two months of the 2008 race. Hillary Clinton’s campaign team has no real leg to stand on now, in calling on Bernie Sanders to “stop attacking Hillary” or even to drop out of the race for her convenience. Because that’s definitely not what Hillary herself did, exactly eight years ago.