There Is No 'Nuclear Option' for Hillary to Seize the Nomination at the Dem Convention
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The presidential campaign has entered a new phase, where reports alleging how Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) could win the nomination -- apart from winning the delegates or the nationwide popular vote among Democrats -- are emerging in the national media.
Take the most recent example, from The Huffington Post, entitled, "Clinton Camp Says It Will Use The Nuclear Option." The website's headline is not referring to what Clinton may or may not do, if elected president, to Iran if it attacks Israel with nuclear weapons. It is referring to a report by Thomas B. Edsall, a very respected reporter, on the scenario involving the seating of Michigan and Florida delegations at the party's convention.
As most people know, those two states were stripped of their delegates after breaking party rules and holding early nominating contests.
Edsall writes, "with at least 50 percent of the Democratic Party's 30-member Rules and Bylaws Committee committed to Clinton, her backers could -- when the committee meets at the end of this month -- try to ram through a decision to seat the disputed 210-member Florida and 156-member delegations. Such a decision would give Clinton an estimated 55 or more delegates than Obama, according to Clinton campaign operatives."
The problems with this report -- and other speculative pieces like it -- is that the Rules and Bylaws Committee is not the last stop in the DNC committee process on the question of seating Florida and Michigan delegates. The DNC Credentials Committee is, and there, according to members interviewed throughout the nominating season, many delegates seem to believe following the party's rules -- i.e., winning delegates state by state -- is paramount, as is respecting the primary season's popular vote winner.
In other words, there is a bigger picture and more to the process than the next hurdle in the horse race coverage, namely, the Rules Committee's meeting on May 31.
"Any issues surrounding the seating of delegates will be addressed by the DNC's RBC (Rules and Bylaws Committee) and/or the Convention's Credentials Committee -- though no formal agenda has been set yet for the RBC meeting," said Natalie Wyeth, Democratic national Convention Committee press secretary, in an e-mail Monday. "Yes, RBC meets in late May and the Cred Cmte (Credentials Committee) won't meet until later in the summer."
In fact, some of the delegates on the Credential Committee -- including 25 appointed by DNC Chairman Howard Dean -- are growing tired of the Clinton campaign's efforts to create new goal posts by which to judge the candidate's fitness for the nomination.
"The Credentials Committee is going to be the final word," said a committee member who didn't want to be named. The committee is comprised of representatives from each state plus the DNC chairman's appointees.
"There are 186 people on the committee. That includes 25 appointees by Howard Dean," this super-delegate said. "The people who are loyal to Howard will vote on what is best for the country but you can't say what that is at this point."
When asked to explain what "best for the country" meant, they said, "It will depend on who honestly won this -- who has the most delegates and who has the most popular votes. That is who won the contest. That is what it will boil down to."
That sentiment is markedly different from the current standard being offered by the Clinton campaign -- that the nominee should be the candidate party elders judge as best-able to beat Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the fall.
While it remains to be seen how the nomination will unfold, the Obama campaign is increasingly aware that their fate may not lie with the results of the primary season. At a meeting with national finance committee members in Indianapolis last Friday, Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe reportedly told his top donors their candidate had already won the nomination based on the delegate selection math. However, he also reportedly said they expected the Clinton campaign to not follow those party rules.
The DNC's Wyeth also cautioned against mischaracterizing what will unfold as the party's committees meet in the weeks and months before the convention.
"The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee has yet to set their agenda for their May meeting," she said. "On the Credentials Committee question, the majority of the panel's membership has yet to be appointed, so it would be premature to speculate on how they may vote on any given issue."
But among those that already have been appointed, there is a feeling that the Credentials Committee should not go against the decisions of primary and caucus voters, the super-delegate on that panel said. That means what Clinton supporters envision for the Rules Committee in its May meeting could be undone by the Credentials Committee in June.
Meanwhile, there is another important scenario: the voters could decide. Either candidate could win decisively in the remaining primary contests and the other could withdraw for the good of their political party.
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of " What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election ," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).