The Autopsy Report

Publishhed on The New Republic, by John B. Judis, May 21, 2008.

Exploring the political reasons for Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

… Finally, Clinton lost the opinion-making class’s vote during those fateful early weeks of the primary season. This included her fellow politicians, who would serve as superdelegates, and the media. Even though Obama appeared to be on the skids after losing New Hampshire, he won a bunch of endorsements leading up to the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, most notably from Senator Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, and Maria Shriver; Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (who helped Obama win Missouri) and former Senator Jean Carnahan; Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson; Vermont Senator Pat Leahy; Massachusetts Senator John Kerry; and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. Some of these endorsements might have come anyway, but several of the most important were provoked by Clinton’s campaign.

There was a similar turn in the media. It showed up in newspaper endorsements. In backing Obama, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch admitted “to a certain ‘Clinton fatigue,’” before launching into this: “The emergence of the former president as the Luca Brasi of the campaign trail reminds us of the worst of the Clinton years; the divisiveness and the bickering; the too-casual, if artful, blend of truth and half-truth. We’re not eager for the replay.” I heard the same refrain from journalists and bloggers who had been either pro-Hillary or on the fence. They used the same two words to explain their disenchantment with the Clinton campaign: “South Carolina.” Indeed, I went from being pro-Hillary (because of her experience and comparative electability in a general election) to a fence-sitter during this period, and when primary day in Maryland came along, I left the booth without casting a vote.

None of this is to say that Hillary Clinton should have refrained from criticizing Obama. They had genuine disagreements, for instance, on healthcare. But if Clinton had stuck to these kind of differences, while making a case for herself as the only challenge-ready candidate in the field and without treating Obama disrespectfully, she might have been able to sustain the lead that she gained after New Hampshire. Instead, her political errors, compounded by her organizational failures, knocked her campaign off balance. By the time, it began to right itself in Ohio in March, it was already too late. (full text).

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