Clinton’s kabuki theater

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Last night on MSNBC, Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman floated an interesting theory about the question du jour: What does Hillary Clinton want? According to his sources, the former first lady has no intention of becoming Barack Obama’s running mate. The rumors, the leaks, the tantalizing hints — it’s all a political game. ...

594766_080604_clinton2.jpg
594766_080604_clinton2.jpg

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Last night on MSNBC, Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman floated an interesting theory about the question du jour: What does Hillary Clinton want? According to his sources, the former first lady has no intention of becoming Barack Obama's running mate. The rumors, the leaks, the tantalizing hints -- it's all a political game.

In Fineman's view, Clinton wants to compel Obama to ask her so that she can make a public show of saying, "No, thanks." That way, she'll get what she sees as her due, but Obama won't be stuck with a veep choice that many of his backers would find insufferable. Plus, her most ardent supporters would be let down a little easier. Other MSNBC panelists, such as Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Tom Brokaw, said this was nonsense. According to their sources, Hillary really does want to be Obama's number two. Of course, for Fineman's plan to work, the New York senator would have to convince everyone that she is seriously considering the job.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Last night on MSNBC, Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman floated an interesting theory about the question du jour: What does Hillary Clinton want? According to his sources, the former first lady has no intention of becoming Barack Obama’s running mate. The rumors, the leaks, the tantalizing hints — it’s all a political game.

In Fineman’s view, Clinton wants to compel Obama to ask her so that she can make a public show of saying, “No, thanks.” That way, she’ll get what she sees as her due, but Obama won’t be stuck with a veep choice that many of his backers would find insufferable. Plus, her most ardent supporters would be let down a little easier. Other MSNBC panelists, such as Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Tom Brokaw, said this was nonsense. According to their sources, Hillary really does want to be Obama’s number two. Of course, for Fineman’s plan to work, the New York senator would have to convince everyone that she is seriously considering the job.

Either possibility could explain why Clinton refused to concede defeat last night and even claimed a victory in the popular vote. She wants maximum leverage so that Obama has little choice but to accede to her demands. (A third possibility is that Clinton plans to fight this thing all the way to the convention. Democratic Party elders are trying to forestall this option by forcing all superdelegates to come to a final decision by Friday.)

My bet, though, is that Hillary has yet to make up her mind and is trying to preserve maximum flexibility. After all, she doesn’t know what Obama will offer in a face-to-face meeting, nor has she had time to canvass her supporters. She’s also a few million dollars in debt. Right now, she’s like a golfer with her finger in the wind, trying to figure out what angle to take. It may not be gracious, but her strategy does have its own brutal logic to it.

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