Newsweek Editor Hints at Democrat Party Split if Clintons Steal Nomination

On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Newsweek editor Jon Meacham hinted that if the Clintons were to execute a "corrupt bargain" which gave Hillary the nomination, it could lead to a split in the Democrat Party akin to what happened in 1824.

In that election, only one Party, the Democratic-Republicans, ran presidential candidates. Although Andrew Jackson won the most popular and electoral votes, he didn't receive a majority of either resulting in the House of Representatives controversially giving the nod to John Quincy Adams.

This skirmish led to a division in the Democratic-Republican Party such that four years later, Jackson ran and won the presidency as a member of the newly created Democratic Party defeating Adams who represented the newly created National Republican Party.

With this in mind, here's what Meacham said Sunday:

Well, my sense of--at every point in this race, Senator Clinton has benefited from a kind of, if not a majority, a silent big plurality of largely female voters who have stepped in at different points and said, "No, not yet with Senator Obama, and we're going to register our belief in her, and her capacity to deal with issues that we believe in strongly." And I think Chuck's exactly right. I mean, what, what some Clinton people have said to me is they have to win someplace they weren't expected to win, and then they could begin to make that argument. I think, depending on where you end up with the, as you were saying, the popular vote, or the pledged delegates, you do have the capacity for a kind of corrupt bargain charge, echoes of 1824, which I think we should always be talking about every Easter. I apologize for that. But that was when...Oh, very quickly, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, Henry Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams. Adams becomes president. Four years later, running on a, running on a campaign saying, "That was a corrupt bargain," Jackson takes over, founds the modern Democratic Party, and here we sit.

Carrying Meacham's suggestion forward, if Obama has the most popular votes and elected delegates heading to Denver, but the Clintons wangle a deal that gets her the nomination, Obama and his supporters furiously branch off to form another Party.

This is an interesting concept that I explored after the 2004 elections, although precipitated by different events:

Unfortunately, this legislative battle is coming at the worst possible time for the Democrats, who have been having a serious internal struggle for the past ten years between their left-leaning members who are still clinging to New Deal ideologies, and the more moderate wing founded by former President Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council.

What this sets up is a situation where history might repeat itself in a fashion that is not a good omen for the Democrats, for the last time they had such a power struggle — the 1824 elections — it began a division of the Democratic-Republicans into the two parties we have today. By 1860, this separation culminated in the rise of the Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln, leading to decades of Republican political dominance.

How does this historical schism foreshadow what is happening today? Well, the Democratic Party since losing the Congress in 1994 has been struggling with its identity almost like Norman Bates. Are we liberals? Are we moderates? Are we hawks? Are we doves? Do we like taxes? Do we hate taxes? Do we take showers? Do we take baths? Mother? Mother?

Of course, as the psychiatrist tells us at the conclusion of Psycho, such a condition always ends in a battle between the two personalities. And, with the election of Howard Dean as the party’s National Committee Chairman, it should be infinitely clear that, for the time being, the New Deal Democratic wing of the party prevailed.

Though this might appear foolhardy given the rightward shift of the nation for the past 24 years, it must be understood that the Democratic Party is in more than just a fight to win back the Congress and the White House. Much like 1824, it is in a battle for its very survival. And, this time, the center of the storm is likely its crowning achievement.

Three and a half years later, this struggle in the Party ends up not being caused by a battle over Social Security, but, instead, over the presidential nominee.

Given the passions on both sides, and the huge turnout at the polls this primary season, is the Meacham scenario possible, or just something interesting to talk about?

On the flipside, as we get closer and closer to August 25 without the nomination having been resolved, is this a possibility that press members will address more often, or will they try to keep such a doomsday scenario under wraps? 

Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential NBC Meet the Press Newsweek
Noel Sheppard's picture