Toxic

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For the last week it’s seemed that Sens. Clinton and Obama were adhering to their tacit truce, continuing the primary campaign but avoiding the harsh exchanges that make later party unity a dimmer and dimmer prospect. Clinton particularly had deescalated her rhetoric. Then we have a speech like Sen. Clinton’s yesterday in Florida in which she compared the controversy over seating the Florida and Michigan delegates to the Florida recount debacle and many of the great voting and civil rights battles of the 20th century. She is of course also claiming that whatever the delegate count, she leads in the popular vote and that that is what really counts. Never mind of course that even if you count Michigan and Florida she’s still not ahead in the popular vote without resorting to tendentious methods of counting.

I’ve always assumed, as I think most people have, that once the nomination is settled the Florida and Michigan delegates will be seated. And I can see if Sen. Clinton wants to embrace this issue to claim a moral victory even while coming short of her goal of the nomination. As things currently stand, seating them would still leave Sen. Clinton behind in delegates.

But Sen. Clinton is doing much more than this. She is embarking on a gambit that is uncertain in its result and simply breathtaking in its cynicism.

I know many TPM Readers believe there is a deep moral and political issue at stake in the need to seat these delegations. I don’t see it the same way. But I’m not here to say they’re wrong and I’m right. It’s a subjective question and I respect that many people think this. What I’m quite confident about is that Sen. Clinton and her top advisors don’t see it that way.

Why do I think that? For a number of reasons. One of her most senior advisors, Harold Ickes, was on the DNC committee that voted to sanction Florida and Michigan by not including their delegates. Her campaign completely signed off on sanctions after that. And Clinton was actually quoted saying the Michigan contest didn’t count. Michigan and Florida were sanctioned because they ignored the rules the DNC had set down for running this year’s nomination process.

The evidence is simply overwhelming that Sen. Clinton didn’t think this was a problem at all — until it became a vehicle to provide a rationale for her continued campaign.

Now, that’s politics. One day you’re on one side of an issue, the next you’re on the other, all depending on the tactical necessities of the moment. But that’s not what Clinton is doing. She’s elevating it to a level of principle — first principles — on par with the great voting rights struggles of history. There’s no longer any question that she’s going to win the nomination. The whole point of the popular vote gambit was to make an argument to super-delegates. And that’s fine since that’s what super-delegates are there for — to make the decision by whatever measure they choose. But they’ve made their decision. The super delegates are breaking overwhelmingly for Obama. They simply don’t buy the arguments she’s making.

As Greg Sargent makes clear here. There are very good reasons to think Sen. Clinton won’t take this to the convention, even as today she suggested she might. But that’s sort of beside the point.

What she’s doing is not securing her the nomination. Rather, she’s gunning up a lot of her supporters to believe that the nomination was stolen from her — a belief many won’t soon abandon. And that on the basis of rationales and arguments there’s every reason to think she doesn’t even believe in.

Late Update: In this post I originally said that Sen. Clinton had “numerous” quotes saying the disputed primaries wouldn’t count. On closer inspection, the only quote from her directly seems to be the one about Michigan not counting.

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