It's quite a double edged sword. Getting rid of underdog candidates can safeguard honesty and realism in campaigns, but it can also protect unpopular
partisan structures from the will of the people.
On the one hand, it removes popular
but unrealistic voices from the campaign. On the other hand, it removes popular but unrealistic
voices from the campaign.
One historical experience we can draw upon is the election of 1912- the first election in which some states used primaries to select delegates to the
national conventions. This example seems to speak in favor of keeping popular candidates even if they are politically hopeless.
Taft, like Bush, was a Republican (although that doesn't mean the same thing anymore) who had alienated the left-leaning portion of his party by his
lack of political savvy. Taft himself was running for a second term in 1912, but the candidacy of Fred Thompson or Rudy Guilliani could be considered
nearly as good a catalyst.
Roosevelt killed Taft in the primaries, but most were non-binding, and Taft carried the convention by virtue of good political manuevering with
career-conscious appointed politicians and political bosses (conventions were notoriously corrupt, even more so than today, before the primary system
was fully implaced). Roosevelt responded by splitting from the party in a bid to steal enough votes from both parties to win the election.
The Democratic Convention was unable to nominate its front runner because of this, and instead the more progressive-minded Woodrow Wilson was
nominated to counter Roosevelt.
Roosevelt's chances were never that great. He was more popular than Taft, at an insurmountable political disadvantage. He started out too late to
have any real hope of outmanuevering Taft for the nomination, and Wilson's nomination was the end of hope for a 3rd party win. Even his running mate
stayed Republican, and his son-in-law supported Taft.
Roosevelt and Wilson were extremely important, although neither was exactly the will of the party or the obvious political choice at first.
Roosevelt's jump to the left in his second term briefly interrupted the then-new status of the Republican party as the party of big business, and his
return to politics when his successor, Taft, went back to the right got Wilson in against the odds. Wilson won the general election with only 41% of
The fact that Republican dominance wavered when Taft was seen as not being progressive enough seemed to get through to Wilson. Once elected decided to
go back a bit on his "New Freedom" platform and compromise with moderate concessions to Roosevelt's ideology, including the creation of the Federal
Trade Commission and Clayton Anti-trust Act to replace the huge lawsuits of the trust-busting era. This ended the Progressive Party, and eventually
sent the remnants of that party to the New Deal Democrats when FDR came along.
To make a story that is getting rather long a bit shorter, a candidate who had popular ideas but who politically speaking "wasn't serious" was
important in creating a serious change in American politics which culminated in everything good and bad that we owe to FDR and possibly Lyndon Johnson
The same thing could theoretically happen if Democratic primary candidates who "aren't serious" are not excluded. Kucinich was an obvious target of
Clinton's comments (and let's face it, Kucinich is neither serious nor politically savvy- the man should be consolidating power in his home state of
Ohio, not making token bids for the presidency), and truth be told, the only candidates who appear to have any hope at the convention at all so far
are Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, and truth be told Edwards is barely serious himself- he's probably working on earning
himself the number 2 spot for Clinton or at least a cabinet position, but he's up against stiff competition for that, as Tom Vilsack seems to have
realized early on that he'd rather be on the bus and not in its path, some are insisting that Bill Clinton is an elligible running mate because of a
technicality in constitutional verbage- and he is vetting his own history extensively despite polling data saying that he's not a significant
albatross as a potential First Gentleman.
Back on topic, what could but won't happen here that reflects the 1912 argument I outlined is for someone like Kucinich or Gore to force Hillary
Clinton even further left than she wants to be (keeping in mind that although she is a liberal, no doubt, the Republicans actually inflated the
liberal image of the Clintons to a certain degree, and that perception won't be enough to win Liberal Democrat votes) and that this will create a
percieved opportunity for Mitt Romney to move a bit further to the left in the general if he won the Republican primary, who would then finally be
able to show his true colors after years of flip flopping, and if he turned out to be a successful liberal Republican president, could change the face
of the Republican party just as Wilson provided a catalyst for with the Democrat party.
The other side of the coin, which I will keep brief, is represented by Ross Perot, who by losing on economic and domestic issues and letting in a
liberal who succeeded on those same issues seems to have so far banished the issue from the Republican party (which seems to feel more kinship with
him than Democrats do, even though he wasn't one of them). It could also be represented, perhaps more accurately in this case, by Nader, who was
minimally important in all likelihood but an unwelcome nuissance and distraction.
Underdog candidates who don't know when to refuse to get off of the front runner's back have a mixed history. One should consider the issue very
carefully before assuming that Clinton is either being undemocratic or is dead right. Depending on which aspects of past instances are to be seen in
this instance, the answer could change considerably.
There is a balance to be struck between, on the one side, the freedom which at its extreme begets anarchy, which begets thuggery and, on the other
side, the order which at its extreme begets plutocracy, which in turn begets revolution and as a result sometimes anarchy as well.