May 22, 2008

Why Hillary Keeps Running

After the American Century

Hillary Clinton has persisted as a candidate beyond the point most people expected. She is spending millions of dollars of her own money at this point, seeking a nomination that almost no one else thinks she has any chance of winning. Yet this is not a quixotic quest. There are a number of reasons why she might continue, which I will list in a moment. I do not claim that these reasons are a coherent explanation, and it is quite possible that only one or two come close to the mark.

1. Hillary continues because, like Mike Huckabee, she wants to get her message across and to position herself as a certain kind of candidate. The goal is not actually to win the nomination in 2008, but to imprint one's image on the electorate for the future. The goal is to become an icon for at least part of the electorate.

2. Hillary keeps running because she genuinely believes what she is saying, that she can be the nominee this year. Often candidates are so surrounded by admirers who encourage them, that they just don't give credence to any nay-sayers. The "truth" is the crowds of well-wishers at every campagin stop. The "truth" is the victories in West Virginia and Kentucky. Just keep at it until the media buys into the gritty determination and the dream.

3. Hillary keeps running because she believes that Obama cannot beat McCain, regardless of what she does. She wants the voters to remember her as the lost alternative, as the one who could have taken back the White House, so she can come roaring back in 2012.

4. Hillary keeps running because psychologically she cannot give it up, because the excitement and the competition are just too much a part of her identity. She keeps going because as long as she is a candidate she is the center of attention, a phenomena, like a marathon dancer who should have collapsed hours ago but keeps on regardless. There may also be a dynamic here with her husband, who must play second fiddle to her as long as she has not given up.

5. Hillary keeps running because she is determined to be the vice-presidential nominee if she cannot get the top spot. By dividing the party and keeping it divided as long as possible, she becomes the only one who can put the Democratic party back together again. If the convention is divided at the end of the summer, then Obama will have to select her as his running mate in order to have any chance of victory.

These five explanations are by no means mutually exclusive. She might even believe them all, or some combination of them, or even different explanations at different times. My point is that there are rational grounds to keep going. Or to put this another way, what should she do with her time instead of run for the preisdency? What could be more galvanizing or more historically important for women? By running, she shows she has grit, determination, heart, stamina, staying-power, popular appeal, and guts. By comparison, dropping out of the race has far less to offer.

So, if she is willing to go go go further and further into debt, Hillary might just keep this marathon going as long as there is any statistical possibility that she can win.