Rude awakening

This was never supposed to happen.

The winner of the biggest states, the battleground states, the most electorally rich states, the more representative primaries (rather than exclusive caucuses), the contests of Democratic voters only, and likely the popular vote as well is probably headed for the history books instead of the nomination.

Hillary Clinton’s end in the 2008 race, as with so many events in her life, is painful and poignant and drenched in drama. The math is unfair, and Hillary has finally found her best, winning self. But the Clintons are hearing a deafening silence from a party they once ran .  Some close aides and friends are asking Hillary to relent, warning her extended campaign is deepening a racial divide in the party that could imperil its chances of winning the presidency. Bill and Hillary Clinton won’t hear of it, insisting there is still a chance. Yet the chance won’t come from their electability argument, only a rival’s implosion or tragedy — Democrats once asked to defend Bill Clinton for lying under oath are not willing to overturn the rules for his wife now.

Life is what happens when we make other plans, and Hillary Clinton’s long-held plan is on its death bed. We will never know how many years Clinton has spent in silent, meditative, disciplined waiting. But as a new senator in 2001, she oozed an almost obsessive intention and deliberation. She took no interviews, stood in the back of the line at Senate press conferences, and insisted on speaking little or last. She was deferential, humble and shrewd. She played it smart with Democrats and Republicans alike, reaching out to former impeachment foes and Republican critics in bipartisan legislative compromise and, privately, in prayer groups.

But calculation, calibration or even religious patience still cannot stop fate. Having raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, Clinton has driven her campaign more than $30 million in debt and had to loan it millions in personal money. In the process, Clinton has let an unprecedented juggernaut dissolve while her opponent, who had only a pipe dream, triumphed in a battle between hubris and hope.

Barack Obama proved that winning is indeed a science, of breaking down voters and opportunities for victory — district by district, county by county, town by town and block by block. He mastered the rules of the Democrats’ very strange game. Team Obama owned the map, finding delegates where they could and stopping at nothing to get them. He not only won more delegates than Clinton in states she won, like New Hampshire, Nevada and Texas, but netted the same amount of delegates from the Idaho caucuses that Clinton picked up in her 10-point win in Pennsylvania. The vote totals are staggering — approximately 20,000 in Idaho compared to more than 2 million in Pennsylvania.

Team Clinton could have competed aggressively against Obama at the very same game; they had the money and influence and party activists to do so. They sure had a leg up on time. With the help of her husband; the alleged greatest mind in the party, Mark Penn; Harold Ickes; Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; and Terry McAuliffe ( two men who had operated the party machine), how could Hillary have ceded this advantage?

Hillary, should she be making more plans, should follow the footsteps of Al Gore, the only person since Adlai Stevenson to be welcomed back by the Democratic Party after losing. When the Supreme Court ended Gore’s White House dream, he delivered his best speech, conceding that “no matter how hard the loss, defeat might serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory out.”

When it’s all over the Clintons can talk of glory, and of party unity, but they can’t say this was never supposed to happen.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.