Were the Concern Trolls Right About the Harsh Democratic Primary?

The problem for Obama and Clinton: by ratcheting up their attacks on each other, they risk weakening the eventual nominee in the general election against McCain. They are certainly supplying the Republicans with a priceless amount of free advertising. Clinton’s “red phone” ads raising questions about Obama’s preparedness to be commander in chief, and Obama’s counterattack commercials challenging Clinton’s judgment, are likely to be re-aired by GOP politicos into the fall if she somehow manages to emerge as the nominee. Indeed, one reason for Clinton’s success on Tuesday appeared to be her campaign’s decision to attack Obama’s integrity and honesty—raising questions about his relationship with a Chicago real-estate magnate charged with extortion and his reported waffling over the NAFTA trade pact, as well as his readiness; exit polls showed that late deciders broke decisively for the New York senator.

…Clinton’s… wins (in Ohio, Texas, and Rhode island) made it probable the Democratic battle would go on for some time to come despite Obama’s seemingly insurmountable lead in pledged delegates and Clinton’s loss in Vermont on Tuesday.

from Newsweek, March 5, 2008

“Concern troll” is a term of derision that is applied to people who whiningly post statements of worry or concern on internet forums, without adding anything new or informative or enlightening to a discussion. Some “concern trolls” are pure “trolls”-as described on Wiktionary, they post on internet forums claiming to share the goals of forum members while deliberately working against those goals. They do this by claiming “concern” about group plans to engage in productive activity, urging members instead to attempt some activity that would damage the group’s credibility, or alternatively, to give up on the group’s goals or projects entirely.

The concern trolls were in full force during the Democratic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As Newsweek observed, the ire raised by the intensity of their fight led many to feel that the winner might be badly damaged in the general election campaign against John McCain.

Well, it looks like the concern trolls were right. A large of part of the media narrative during the Democratic Convention this week has been the dissatisfaction of Hillary supporters. John McCain has actually done a political ad featuring a former Clinton supporter who has gone over to the dark side now claims she will vote for John McCain.

It’s been a public relations mess for the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party.

Much of the blame for this goes to the Clinton campaign. No one has a problem with Clinton wanting to stay in the race despite, as Newsweek said, “Obama’s seemingly insurmountable lead in pledged delegates.” But Clinton’s strategy to stay in the race and win involved negative campaigning that sought to demonize Obama and make people feel that he was unelectable. And many of Clinton’s supprters have not forgotten that message.

Clinton herself claimed that after the primaries, the party would heal and the old fights would be forgotten. But for many of her supporters, that hasn’t happened.

In combat jargon, there is the term “Pyrrhic victory.” It refers to a battle where a victory has been made with devastating cost to the victor, almost to the extent that the victory is ruinous for the winner.

What we see in the aftermath of the Clinton campaign is a possible Pyrrhic loss. Her losing campaign might prove to have been so caustic, and her supporters so turned off, that it could cost the Democrats a win in the general election. We’ll see how this plays out.

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