Slate political correspondent John Dickerson was online on Washingtonpost.com to chat about the uncertain end of the Democratic race in light of Tuesday's primaries. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.
John Dickerson: Hi everyone. Sorry I'm a bit late. I look forward to the chat.
Nashville, Tenn.: At what point does Hillary's staff start to rebel?
John Dickerson: I don't hear anything from the staff that suggests they're going to rebel. They're all pretty much on board. I've seen staffers rebel in other campaigns. Not getting that here.
Chicago: Can't we assume that Hillary knows she is not going to win at this point? If so, what other motivation can she have for staying in it other then damaging Obama for the general?
John Dickerson: I'm not totally certain she thinks she isn't going to win. I think she sees a way she can pursue her interests and not cause herself or the party irreparable harm.
Jackson, Miss.: Ickes says that Florida and Michigan have learned an "important lesson," but according to Clinton, that lesson is just that they have been unjustly wronged. My head hurts.
John Dickerson: You're right. They've learned no lesson. This is one of their weaker arguments. The lesson is that there are ways around the rules.
Seaford, Del.: Be honest: As long as this primary campaign has been, are you really ready for it to end? Will you miss it? Will the presidential campaign still be interesting enough to capture this level of public interest after the primary battle is officially over, or will the country just yawn and turn off the cable news channels?
John Dickerson: I'm not ready for anything to end. But I never am. It's not about audience or readership. It's a great and interesting story and even though the candidates aren't talking about the issues much any more we are getting to learn a lot about the way the country and our voters see themselves and their leaders.
Will this ever end?: Seeing as how Clinton is now completely tearing the initial Michigan/Florida agreement to shreds, how can anyone trust that she will agree to abide by whatever negotiated agreement is arrived at?
John Dickerson: If superdelegates stopped looking longingly out the window for inspiration to come riding over the horizon we'd probably get an end to this, but I also think it's reasonable and consistent for the superdelegates to wait till June 3rd when this stage of the process ends.
Re: And not cause herself or the party irreparable harm.: She's in a swing state loudly comparing her party's actions to those of Robert Mugabe! How does that not harm the party?
John Dickerson: Good point. I think that she can clean this up a bit if she doesn't make it in the end. And we'll see what she does in reaction to the decision by the Rules and Bylaws Committee on the 31st.
Bethesda, Md.: I take great issue with this whole consolation prize motif for Hillary Clinton should she not get the Democratic nomination. Why is she entitled to a consolation prize? What has she done to earn it, other than continually cry foul that she's being victimized because she's a woman, or to make up fictitious stories about her foreign trips (e.g., Bosnian sniper fire)?
Last time I checked, Hillary Clinton is a U.S. senator just like any other senator; her being a former First Lady doesn't, in my view, elevate her to the status of surrogate queen. She breathes the same air as we do, she drinks the same water that we do, so she's a normal human being just like the rest of us. So why is she so much more important politically that everyone feels she needs a consolation prize?
John Dickerson: it's not so much a consolation prize. Obama must consider the political damage that comes with treating her in a way that her very durable supporters find objectionable. What Clinton has done, to answer your question, is convince a large and vocal group that she should be president. That's considerable value, whatever you may say about her resume. Another way to put it: Obama's resume isn't terribly full either but he has been able to build something nevertheless and that thing he has built is what gives him political power.
Silver Spring, Md.: What's the situation in the Clinton camp: Is it her determination to stay in that propels her staff to work, or is her staff convincing her to stay in, and that something good can come of it? Or is everyone over there just delusional?
John Dickerson: It's funny in the Clinton camp. They can't attack really and they can't mint new policy proposals (too late for that) so they're all lawyers now arguing about rules and fairness and standing.
New Orleans: It doesn't appear that Clinton staying in will harm the party irreparably, but let's say she is able to figure out a way to finagle the nomination—wouldn't such an occurrence tear the party apart, and most likely lead to a McCain presidency?
John Dickerson: If Clinton finds a way to get the nomination a big chunk of the party would think that she stole it. That chunk includes African Americans and young voters and liberals. Democrats need that group in the fall. It's a big problem and they don't have an answer about how Clinton is going to avoid it.
New York: Are there any leaders who have had the courage to tell Clinton bluntly that it is time to get behind the party's nominee? She's just a bully at this point.
John Dickerson: There's no one who could, I don't think that isn't in her camp fighting alongside her.
Pittsburgh: I don't get it—if she is winning the popular vote, Clinton should get the nomination. If the superdelegates know so much about who could better run the country, then is the country in such a mess. Let the popular vote be deciding factor. Also, why isn't anyone in the media asking for another debate? They are so in favor of Obama that they are letting him get away with not debating her. This would not be the case if the situation were reversed!
John Dickerson: Clinton is only winning the popular vote in Bizarro world. She claims that she is but the math formula required to get this outcome requires acts of prayer more than science.
St. Charles, Ill.: I think it's obvious to most of us that Clinton is just trashing her own reputation, and "Hillary" will enter the political jargon as a synonym for "sore loser." No rationale is left, she is not winning the superdelegates over, and her tortured logic on the popular vote is making her a laughingstock. The "sexist" argument is even weaker—as Doris Godwin pointed out, her gender has been perhaps her biggest asset, next to the name recognition coming from her husband. Many "feminists" also are convinced that she is the worst possible representative of their movement and is setting the cause back by decades. What keeps her in the race? It's the complex psychology of the sore loser.
John Dickerson: I'm not so sure. She's got every right to stay in the race and make her case. She may not be right. Her spin may be stretched, but what moral or legal case is there for her to get out. Clinton certainly has benefited form her gender—and seeks to do so again by drawing attention to it, so that point to me seems right. What keeps her in the race is that she's a fighter and fighters fight. We usually respect that and admire it in our culture. As people have talked about Teddy Kennedy they have talked about him being a fighter. Well, if you're a fighter, you fight.
Toluca Lake, Calif.: Why aren't the superdelegates bringing this to a close? Fear of the Clintons?
John Dickerson: Perhaps but I think they might also be leaving their options open and making the calculation that the price they pay for jumping ahead of the process is higher than the one they pay for not acting.
Rockville, Md.: I don't think Obama has to do anything, per se. However, I do think that the remaining superdelegates need to meet and then congruently back the people's choice. This approach would bring some sort of completeness to Obama's nomination ... i.e. if we want it to end before June 3.
John Dickerson: This is very smart. If the superdelegates want to fix things they'll get together and all jump at once after June 3rd. There's some evidence that they'll do this. They're the ones that can give a clean break to this and show that the party and the process is behind the nominee in a big solid way.
She's just a bully?: So strong women can't just be strong women? They have to be a bully? Don't laugh if I call that a little sexist!
John Dickerson: Did I use the word bully? Whether I did or not it seems to me that a person can be a bully whether they're a man or a woman.
Burlington, Vt.: Why is it Clinton's fault that Obama chose to take his name off the ballot? It's not her fault he took a dive! I want a president who's stronger than that!
John Dickerson: Whether one keeps their name on or off of a an unsanctioned contest seems an odd test of presidential strength.
St. Charles, Ill.: I think what we are seeing is the psychology of the "sore loser" at work. Something pathological must be going on—denial of reality, wishful thinking, and rejection of the premise coupled with anger and acting out. What is your take on Hillary's mental state? I've seen her described in the "XX Factor" as the "high-maintenance, difficult woman" that everyone has to tiptoe around.
John Dickerson: I think Hillary is doing exactly what any other tough politician in her fix would do. I think making claims about her mental state is something people do a lot and most are just guessing. If being high-maintenance and difficult were a barrier to anything we'd have no politicians, CEOs, editors or authors.
Yorktown, Va.: Don't you think it is in the ultimate best interest of the party to allow Hillary to exhaust her credibility during the primary and not the general election or her administration?
John Dickerson: There are still a) lots of Democrats who like Hillary a great deal and b) lots of Democrats who want the race to continue. Ticking them off by somehow forcing her out is probably not something the party wants to do if it wants to stay healthy.
Tampa, Fla.: I'm wondering and hopefully you can answer this question. Has Obama ever visited Iraq or Afghanistan? If not, my other question is this: Why would he sit down unconditionally with the very leaders who were trying to kill our troops, but won't sit down with the troops he wants to command? Please let me know. Thank you.
John Dickerson: Clever. I think "unconditionally" is not an accurate framing of his view. He has been to Iraq (I'm not sure about Afghanistan) and he's sat down with the troops in other settings.
Waukegan, Ill.: I think Obama should try to name his vice president sooner rather than later—as soon as he crosses the delegate threshold for the nomination. The longer he waits, the more time Hillary and Bill have to build pressure to force her onto the ticket, against his better judgment. He's the de facto leader of the Democratic Party now, and he needs to show some decisiveness and put an end to all the Clinton gamesmanship. The longer it drags on, the more it hurts him.
John Dickerson: Makes sense. I think the Obama campaign was happy to let out word that he has started working on his veep in order to move along that view that he's the de facto leader.
New York: If Hillary fights on until August, should we start reserving our McCain inaugural tickets now? Two months seems way too short for a Democratic nominee to make their case, especially since Big Mac looks really "above the fray" at the moment.
John Dickerson: A lot can happen in politics. I still don't think this goes until August but even if it does, the Democratic nominee will have plenty of time to make their case.
Cabin John, Md.: You seem to predict that the superdelegates will fix everything shortly after June 3 by finally declaring for Obama. But it sure would be easier to fix the Florida and Michigan problems after this happens, wouldn't it? Can the Rules Committee "punt" on May 31 for two weeks or so, or do they have to decide on that day?
John Dickerson: Great question. I think they need to decide. If they punt it goes to the convention I believe which would be too late for most people's liking.
St. Simons Island, Ga.: I am a daily reader of Slate and of your column in Slate and very much admire your writing and insight in the campaign. I did not know (or had forgotten) you are Nancy Dickerson's son. I will have to read your book. Keep up the good work.
John Dickerson: Fortunately for me, I am Nancy Dickerson's son. I hope you do read the book and thank you for your very warm comments.
Fairfax, Va.: At this point, Hillary's most likely path to achieving her dream of the presidency is for Obama to flame out this fall, allowing her to spend the next four years on a "told you so" campaign, and knocking off McCain in 2012. Waiting until 2016 is much dicier. So Obama has to expect that she will do everything she can to feign support while simultaneously seeking to undermine him, without leaving obvious fingerprints. And yet, he somehow has to appeal to her constituency and not diss her. Tough job.
John Dickerson: Perhaps. I think she'll have to work like the devil for him if he's the nominee to prove that she wasn't trying to put this kind of a strategy in place at the end of the campaign. Otherwise she'll have lost the support of a lot of people in her party.
Falls Church, Va.: What about the theory that Hillary is staying in the race because of pressure from Bill—to compensate for the scandals and incomplete accomplishments of his own administration and to extend his supposed dynasty? And this would be a reason, by the way, not to give Hillary the vice presidential nomination —three's a crowd! Thanks.
John Dickerson: Bill Clinton would complicate things if he were the 2nd Lad, or whatever they'd call him. But Mario Cuomo made a good point on Face the Nation this last weekend which is that Clinton has lots of things he's doing all over the world that will keep him busy and out of the way.
Seattle: Because of the symbolic status of Florida as the state the Republicans exploited to "steal" the victory away from Gore in 2000, isn't Hillary's push to now include Florida an awkward reminder of the past, only this time pitting two Democrats against each other rather than a Democrat and Republican? And as a result, won't all the Florida fuss weaken the Democratic Party and create an odor of corruption once again?
John Dickerson: Could be. It depends on how the Rules and Bylaws committee handles it. I think they'll be bending over backwards to look fair for just this reason.
Alexandria, Va.: It seems to me that by seating both the Florida and Michigan delegates, the Democrats as a party look more frazzled and divisive than ever. Why haven't the big names in the Democratic Party orchestrated a compromise yet? How are Democrats supposed to be effective as a party against the Republican machine if they don't get their story straight?
John Dickerson: That's a good point which is why the whole delegations are not going to be sat. It would look goofy—you're out, no, now you're in. They'll find a middle ground and the new delegate threshold will be 2,100 something or 2,118 but not the full 2,210 that Clinton wants.
Washington: In any negotiation, both parties have to be able to bring something to the table. Clearly, Obama can offer Clinton almost anything short of the presidency to get her to get out. What cards does Clinton have to play at this point, aside from conceding the nomination (which she already has lost)? In other words, why should Obama offer her anything, and not instead just let her continue on in futility?
John Dickerson: Clinton has a large and loyal following, particularly of women, who back her and who Obama will need in the fall.
Washington: On Wednesday the Washington Post ran a story suggesting that Sen. Clinton may graciously back down should Sen. Obama offer her the first slot open on the Supreme Court. Assuming that age is not a factor (wouldn't President Obama be inclined to nominate someone in their late-40s or early-50s to balance Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts?), would this be tantalizing enough for Sen. Clinton to enthusiastically back Sen. Obama? Is there any precedence for promising a position on the court to a rival for the nomination? Finally, could you even make such a deal public in an effort to rally Sen. Clinton's supporters to back Sen. Obama?
washingtonpost.com: Next Stop, Supreme Court?(Post, May 21)
John Dickerson: It's a great notion but I'm not sure he could promise her in a way that would be iron clad, but he could float it. Or, more to the point, his team could float it in the papers to see if she is up for it, or to see if it mollifies her supporters a bit.
Clinton certainly has benefited from her gender...: And Obama hasn't benefited from his race? Come on now.
John Dickerson: Clinton can have benefited from her gender and Obama can have benefited from his race. It is a world with many possibilities.
Bethesda, Md.: The latest I have heard is that the Clinton camp does not want any of the "uncommitted" delegates from Michigan to go to Obama. How much more chicanery can this campaign get away with?
John Dickerson: The answer to that question depends on what the Democratic party Rules and Bylaws Committee decides on the 31st.
Minnesota: It has been said that the only thing that makes candidates drop out is when they run out of money. Is there a point when Clinton hits the financial wall and has to concede?
John Dickerson: When the $109 million dries up. You could argue though that the race is cheaper now. You don't need that many more ads, though the GOTV effort in Puerto Rico will be huge since a big Clinton win there might help her otherwise far fetched claim that she's gotten more votes in this race.
Tough crowd for Hillary: Last time I looked, Hillary and Obama have the support of Democratic voters split almost neatly in half. Of course Obama needs to consider how to end this race without alienating her base. It's half of his own party. People on this chat act like this isn't a close race with repercussions that will impact either winning side. She's not Huckabee or Ron Paul—she has won a huge amount of votes.
John Dickerson: I agree. Obama wants their votes and he wants the image of unity and forward progress. He doesn't want lingering resentment.
John Dickerson: Thanks all of you for your questions. I enjoyed it. I hope you did too.
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