Crying Wolfson

Here we go again: Break out your list of unfair reasons why Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination so we can add another.

Published August 11, 2008 6:36PM (EDT)

Former Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson told that had the story about John Edwards' affair broken before the primary season began Hillary Clinton would now be the Democratic nominee. "I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee," said Wolfson.

Geez, just when I thought we had exhausted the laundry list of unfair reasons why Clinton did not win the nomination, now we have another, late entrant. The only explanation we haven't heard from the likes of Wolfson is the only one that's a certain truth: If only Barack Obama had decided not to run this cycle, Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. Why can't the Clintonistas just admit they got beat, fair and square, and despite all their ex ante advantages? (Frankly, I think it is because they had all those advantages going in and still lost.)

Though there is a certain plausibility to Wolfson's argument, given how well Edwards did in Iowa, it is still counterfactual. Had news of Edwards' affair been broken last fall, who knows how the other non-Hillary candidates in Iowa, including Obama, might have fared? And in any close contest, any one variable can always be adduced, after the fact, as the reason (or in the case of Clinton apologists, another of many reasons) the outcome went this way or that.

The macro reasons for Hillary's loss are still the same: They underestimated Obama, they didn't have a plan for winning delegates in caucus states, and they were caught flat in the period immediately following Super Tuesday. None of those fatal errors can be attributed to illicit affairs covered up by a supposedly complicit media or anything else Edwards, Obama or any of the other Democratic contenders did or did not do.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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