Commentary Magazine


Eating Crow

It wasn’t enough for me to predict, as I did on Monday, that Barack Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Noooo. I had to predict that Obama would sink the Clinton campaign and end the Clinton Era. I even provided a eulogy. About predictions and punditry I can only say, echoing the emotional words of Senator Clinton from earlier this week, “It’s not easy.” But in the best pundit tradition, I’ll simply plow ahead, chastened but unbowed.

Some thoughts, then, on last night:

1. Hillary Clinton’s comeback was at least as impressive as what her husband did 16 years ago (he came in second in New Hampshire). A campaign that by all accounts, including her own staff, was collapsing not only stopped the free-fall; it emerged with a victory. One Clinton adviser told the Washington Post’s Dan Balz that no one in the campaign foresaw the result. And so a race that most observers thought was going to provide clarity is now as fluid (if less fractured) than the Republican race. Hillary Clinton won among women, seniors, low-income Americans and union voters; Obama won among men, young voters, high-income earners, and independents. And almost one-fifth of Democratic voters made up their mind on whom to vote for on the final day (the figure was only slightly less for Republicans). This is an indicator of just how unstable things are.

2. The Obama loss shocked almost everyone who follows politics in part, I think, because the enthusiasm for him in New Hampshire was real (the snaking lines of people waiting to hear his speeches were not imaginary)–and he made no apparent errors or missteps which would explain why his momentum came to a skidding halt.

3. Obama supporters, having had a decisive victory within their grasp, must be crestfallen. To let an opportunity like that slip away can haunt a campaign. But Obama is still well positioned. After two attempted coronations–-first hers and then his–the Democratic race is a toss up. And if you’re a Democrat this year it’s worth avoiding, at all costs, the appellation “front runner.”

4. The Obama loss will now put new and intense scrutiny on him. Clinton absorbed an enormous blow in Iowa and recovered. Will he? It’ll be fascinating to see how Obama, as well as the newly aggressive and negative Clinton campaign, wil respond.

5. The two candidates who emerged victorious last night, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, both had been declared finished–McCain in the summer of ’07 and Clinton after her loss in Iowa last week. This is a year of political resurrections.

6. Whatever flaws he has, and he does have them, McCain early on tied his campaign to the success of the surge and the success of America at war. That was admirable–and if you’re going to win a primary, being on the right side of the war is a pretty good reason to do so.

7. Based on the Democratic results in New Hampshire, we can say with high confidence that political polling–at least in New Hampshire, among Democrats–is about as reliable as our National Intelligence Estimates of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs.

Last night Democrats could have turned the page on the Clinton Era. The voters of New Hampshire politely and emphatically declined. Time will tell if that was a wise decision or not. But for now, they’re baaack.