A few days ago, erstwhile Clinton poll guru Mark Penn wrote a hilarious op-ed in The Washington Post, suggesting that "Cleggmania" in Britain showed that America was ready for a third party, hopefully helmed by some kind of Bloomberg-esque billionaire who could hire Mark Penn. You'll notice that Cleggmania wasn't so maniacal when Brits went to the polls yesterday.
Jonathan Chait and Ed Kilgore gave Penn the required evisceration, but today I came across this interesting passage from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change. The scene takes place right after Barack Obama has sealed the 2008 Democratic nomination by securing the required number of delegates:
Clinton polled the table as to whether Obama could win in November. "Yes," [Tina] Flournoy said. With your help, he can win." Everyone but Penn and [Cheryl] Mills agreed.
So right after the guy has run the most extraordinary primary campaign in history, raised record amounts of money, shown himself to be the best orator the country had seen in years and a brilliant strategist, and is facing John McCain, the walking embodiment of everything he's running against, and in the face of an incredibly unpopular Republican president and a tanking economy, Penn thought he couldn't win. Then a few pages later, Penn tells Clinton that it all depends on Obama's VP choice: "Biden, one-in-two chance. Bayh, one-in-four chance. Kaine and Sebelius, both which I think are terrible choices, one-in-eight chance." Um, yeah -- despite the general agreement that your VP choice will make only the tiniest difference in the outcome of the race, Penn thought that had Obama picked someone like Tim Kaine or Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's chance of winning would have plummeted to 12.5 percent. Right.
This is the guy you want as your chief strategist, no doubt. (If you're looking for more on the quality of Penn's analysis of public opinion, see Ezra Klein's epic takedown of Penn's absurd book Microtrends. It's worth a read.)
-- Paul Waldman
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