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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Marc Ambinder Responds to Tom Edsall's Post: "Clinton Camp Says It Will Use The Nuclear Option."

Clinton's "Nuclear Option" More Of A Conventional Weapon?


Wikipedia's history of the phrase "a nuclear option" would make Sen. Bill Frist proud, but in so far as historical references go, it's weaker than an aged dog. I more prefer the context of annihilation and obliteration over procedural gimmickry, but the latter is more apropos for today's politics. On Friday, Tom Edsall headlined his story about the upcoming rules and bylaws committee meeting of the Democratic Party, "Clinton Camp Says It Will Use The Nuclear Option."

THE OPTION Edsall refers to is an unspecified plan to somehow use the campaign's leverage on the committee to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan, thereby reducing the pledged delegate gap with Barack Obama by 55. Edsall's implication, derived, I assume, from his conversations with Clinton campaign allies, is that the Clinton campaign is currently debating whether to play this trump card; the "nuclear option" lingo makes it clear that Edsall believes that the card is improperly played -- that the process of delegation challenges does not comport with a spirit of fair play.

IN FAIRNESS TO the Clinton campaign, they've made no secret about their desire to seat the delegations from Florida and Michigan. And, absent new, DNC-approved delegate selection contests in those states, the RBC and then the credentials committee are the "legal" and appropriate forums to hear those challenges under DNC rules. RBC meetings are open and above-board; the challenges set to be argued will be argued. The Obama campaign does not believe that a majority of the RBC's members are Clinton supporters; the Clinton campaign is surely counting votes, but they're also not certain of the outcome. It seems indecent to suggest that RBC members, many of whom have the equivalent of tenure on the committee and are sticklers for DNC rules, would so eagerly and quickly jettison sound judgment in favor of politics. Some will, some won't. It further seems unfair to lump the cases of Florida and Michigan together, especially when it comes to what's fair and what's foul. In Florida, Clinton and Obama both appeared on the ballot; in Michigan, Obama's name (by his own choice, yes) did not.

THE DNC HAS told outside parties that the RBC is free to do what it wants with the challenges. That said, the RBC is not free from questions about its institutional politics. If it overturns its sanctions in their entirety, it puts into jeopardy its own legitimacy and that of the Democratic National Committee. (We were totally right until we were totally wrong. So, Michigans of 2012, don't worry about the calendar restrictions). If it accepts the logic of the challenges and awards to the candidates half of their Michigan and Florida delegations, it will face the opprobrium of the Obama campaign and its legion of supporters (and donors). If it turns down the challenges, it may be accused of kicking the can down the road. In late June, the credentials committee of the DNC takes jurisdiction over delegation matters, and when they do, everything litigated in May will be relitigated.

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