It is an old model, early 1990s to be exact, and though it was idling a tad shaky this past summer—not surprisingly, it hadn’t been cranked up since 2008—it is starting to hum. The pistons were rusty and the fuel lines were clogged. A few spark plugs were less than optimal, and the radiator leaked. It may not be a perfect machine, right off the line, like the 2008 Barack Obama model that ran it off the road on the first turn and never looked back. But even that model has a few laps on it now. It is ancient history around these parts, the Clinton parts; where the sense memory is long and deep and needs no motivation beyond a push on the pedal to get her going.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is about to be the first woman to ever lead a major party’s ticket for the presidency in the 240-year history of this republic. It is only a matter of time before she gets the engine of The Machine at peak levels. It’s just about revving now; across the South and now through Midwest, with a few pit-stops for tuning up around New Hampshire and Michigan. But after the real Super Tuesday, where the delegate count started to look like something from Custer’s Last Stand, it is picking up steam. Even the Bernie Sanders supporters now begin talking about “changing the party” and “making our point” and “looking forward to marching into the Democratic Convention and pleading our ideological case.” Winning for them is out of the question now.
This is what happens when The Machine rolls over you. There are tire marks on your back and you wonder, what’s the point?
The late Paul Tsongas had a similar feeling in 1992. The Massachusetts senator entered Super Tuesday with momentum and was putting the screws to William Jefferson Clinton, an embattled and politically wounded Arkansas Governor. Clinton was a scandal working on another scandal while waiting for the last scandal to wrap up. Soon, without warning, Tsongas was headed back to Beantown not knowing what hit him. What hit him was The Machine.
I have seen The Machine up close. I felt its heat and heard its engines purr. They are a mother, let me tell you. In 2009, I went to Radio City Music Hall to listen to its main mechanic James Carville publically discuss how to build and maintain such a thing. He sat across from Karl Rove, a man I drank with more than once in early 2000, who ran an effective engine of his own. That tip-top bastard of an apparatus turned a garble-mouthed Texas bonus baby into Captain Shoo-In, who would become a Texas governor and later president of the United States. These are men who know how to put together a machine that instinctually warms up and finds the open road.
Right now that is where Hillary Clinton finds herself. There is no junior senator rock star in front of her now. The Bern has flamed out. Most it can do now to make news is have its youthfully exuberant charges bust up Donald Trump rallies, which is good for press but does nothing to stop whatever that maniac’s got going, which looks real and mean and unstoppable. But that is a problem for the Republican Party, which fears the real estate mogul’s dismal approval ratings might sink it and hand the Senate back over the Democrats. Trump, they say, is even more untrustworthy and unpopular than Clinton, who has now approached Nixonian levels of icky. No one seems to know what the woman is capable of, but none of it matters. The Machine is on its way.
For the record, this model has an easier ride than the ’92 model. That one was brand new but up against serious odds, and the Democratic Party didn’t give a shit who the hell lost to George Bush Sr. Eyes were already on 1996 when the whole Reagan Revolution finally died out and people could get on with things. But Big Bill had other ideas. He also had a madman Independent candidate called Ross Perot, sort of an antecedent to this Trump fellow, but crazier. Way crazier. The Texas billionaire garnered 18 percent of the vote, despite dropping out halfway through the summer haunted by delusions of CIA infiltrations of his daughter’s wedding and other weird shit he blurted out during odd moments on the Larry King Show. As a result of this mess, Clinton won the presidency with 43 percent of the popular vote. Only Richard Nixon in 1968 (43.4), Woodrow Wilson in 1912 (41.8) and Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (39.8) earned less. To be fair, Honest Abe had three opponents and the entire South delivered zero votes.
The 2016 Clinton model could face a similar set-up, if anti-Trump Republicans decide to form a third party and siphon off 20 percent of the right-wing electorate.
Either way, you’d have to be a political novice to not see that The Machine has found its motor and is kicking up a storm now. It came alive somewhere along the southern rim of the contiguous United States in mid-to-late February, and it shows little sign of slowing down. Not until there is an opponent, and that looks malleable right now. For Bernie Sanders, as we have come to know and love him, is done; left by the roadside with his thumb out looking for a way back to the Senate. It was a nice run, a short revolution, but one that had a mind-bending effect on Clinton. It may even hound her come late summer when the main laps for The Machine commence.
But know this: The Machine, the Clinton Machine, is back. And at some point all this fleeting hope for the FBI or some smoking gun to come out of any of these Clinton shenanigans to halt its momentum has got to cease. It will be time then for someone or something to stop it on the campaign trail, where it has shown at once a lethal effectiveness and an inability to get out of its own way. There is only one way to put The Machine down now; the ballot box, where all these things end up…eventually.