You almost certainly know how the expectations game is played in electoral politics, because there are only three rules:
1) If you think you’re going to win, set expectations low. Your victory then appears even bigger than “expected.”
2) If you think you’re going to lose, set expectations even lower. Your loss won’t look so bad as “expected.”
3) If you know you’re going to lose, lower expectations for your opponent by dismissing the entire event as meaningless. Their win will mean less than “expected.”
At this early stage in the game — six months before the Iowa Caucus or the New Hampshire Primary, Team Clinton is already working Rule #2 in those early states. Democratic strategist (and self-described “Clinton supporter”) Maria Cardona went on ABC’s This Week to talk to Jonathan Karl about the threat posed to Hillary by Vermont Democratic-Socialist-Independent-Democrat Bernie Sanders:
“I don’t think we’ve seen more enthusiasm for any candidate, Democrat or Republican, than we’ve seen for Bernie Sanders,” Karl said. “Maria, what is going on … Hillary Clinton, supposed to be a coronation here. She now finds all the energy in the Democratic primary right now is with a 73-year-old self-described socialist from Vermont.”
Cardona laughed, saying the media thought this would be a coronation, not Clinton.
“Bernie is from a neighboring state,” she said. “We shouldn’t be surprised that there is so much enthusiasm for him, and in fact, we shouldn’t be surprised if he does very well in New Hampshire or in Iowa and perhaps even wins. I think this is good for the Democratic Party … As a Hillary supporter, I think she will be the nominee, but she will be that much better of a nominee and that much better of a general election candidate because of Bernie.”
“Let’s also remember no Democrat has broken 40 percent in Iowa unless you are from there or are unless you are an incumbent or a VP, so again, I think expectations need to be tamped down here,” Cardona added later.
Clinton lost to Barack Obama in Iowa to 2008, but “saved” her campaign by eking out a surprise win in New Hampshire five days later.
What’s interesting to note about the 2008 Democratic primary race is that Clinton actually won the popular vote by three quarters of a point, but lost in the delegate count.
How’d Obama manage that delegate coup? Team Clinton focused on winning the big headline-making primary states (ooh, shiny!). She won 21 of those (and a couple territories), including the Big Five: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
Team Obama focused on the black vote concentrated in the Deep South, and on the smaller caucus states where the voting process can be… slipperier. Also in the caucus states, enthusiasm can make a big difference, as voters talk to one another during the caucus process. Enthusiasm for “Black Jesus” and a perfect reading of the ground game allowed Obama to win 29 of those plus DC (and a couple territories).
Clinton went after primary voters, but Obama went after delegates. And it’s the delegates who choose the nominee.
In the end, Obama garnered 2,285.5 delegates to Clinton’s 1,974.
Game over, man.
The likelihood of Sanders being able to pull off the same kind of wins Obama got in 2008 is very low, given that Clinton leads in the national polls by an average of 50 points. Those 50 points are her lead over distant number two Bernie Sanders, not her total. But if you were advising him, given the enthusiasm he’s getting from the grassroots, you’d certainly urge him to try. The details are different from ’08, of course. Sanders isn’t going to garner the huge African-American support Obama got, making the South much more competitive for Clinton. But Sanders could very well negate that disadvantage by pressing his True Blue Progressivism with lefty voters in those Big Five states Clinton won in 2008. If Sanders takes three or four of those five, plus sweeps Massachusetts and the rest of New England — he’s a contender.
The odds are long, but they might not be impossible to overcome.
Hillary’s big mistake last time around was taking her “inevitability” too seriously, and not taking her primary opponent seriously enough. That doesn’t seem like the kind of mistake she and her team would repeat — or is it?
That’s what I asked myself after reading Emily Zanotti’s latest for the American Spectator:
Back when she first announced that she was running for President, Hillary Clinton made such a big deal of opening an office in Brooklyn that most people thought she’d jettison the pantsuits for some high-waisted Jorts and a crop top from Urban Outfitters. Here was a candidate of yesterday, so tained with the scent of the 1990s that her very presence reminded everyone of padded headbands and Seinfeld, openly embracing the new hipsterdom of organic, fair trade, vegan coffee bars and food trucks run by people who use their profits for mustache wax. A miracle!
Like most things with the Clintons, the Brooklyn office turned out to be nothing more than an elaborate marketing scheme targeted at a specific demographic.
Brooklyn is a big deal, Hipster Ground Zero. If Clinton is taking their support for granted, she might be making a big mistake. Hipsters pride themselves on their progressivism, generally don’t trust Clinton as a “true” progressive like Sanders, and most importantly they set trends and communicate those trends rapidly and forcefully via social media.
So it’s curious that Cardona would say that “the media thought this would be a coronation, not Clinton,” when Clinton is in fact behaving like it’s another inevitable coronation for Queen Hillary. Could she really be repeating the same mistake from 2008?
If Clinton wants a smooth run to the White House, she’d better get her head out of Manhattan and her metaphorical ass back to Brooklyn.