At Hillary Clinton’s first major Presidential fund-raiser back in February, an anti-war protester who had snuck into the event called on her to explain why she refused to end the war by simply cutting off funds for the troops.
“There is a fine line to walk here,” Mrs. Clinton said, explaining that she did in fact want to end the war but had serious reservations about blocking money earmarked for soldiers. “I do not feel comfortable cutting off funds that will keep them safe when they are sent on this mission.”
Three months later, Mrs. Clinton has decided to give up the balancing act and stand squarely with Presidential rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards in the anti-war-funding camp.
“Enough is enough,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters on May 24, after voting against the emergency supplemental appropriations bill necessary to fund the troops in Iraq. “At some point, you just have to draw a line.”
This was as hard—and defining—a choice as Mrs. Clinton has had to make in her Presidential campaign.
Mrs. Clinton, perhaps more than any other Democratic candidate in the race, believes in the Presidential prerogative: that a commander in chief should not be handcuffed by Congress. Her advisors and supporters have privately made that conviction a central selling point, brandishing it as a sign of her experience in the White House, where she witnessed firsthand a Republican Congress that tried to curtail her husband’s authority to send troops to Bosnia and Haiti, and as a nonpolitical rationalization of her hesitance to deny the President the authority—and, more recently, the funding—necessary for him to wage war in Iraq.
But when the Democratic leadership decided that withholding funds from the troops was an untenable political position and opted to send Mr. Bush a war-spending bill that he wouldn’t veto—it didn’t have any of the timelines for troop withdrawal that the party’s anti-war wing demanded—it put Mrs. Clinton in an impossibly tight spot.
“The Democratic primary electorate is extraordinarily opposed to this war and wants to end the funding for this war,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster not affiliated with any of the candidates. “Politically, it’s certainly hard for anybody to stick their thumb in the eye of that electorate.”
That public opposition—along with the emergence of Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards as rivals for the nomination, as well as an influential army of anti-war blogger-activists who have scrutinized Mrs. Clinton’s every utterance—appears to have forced her to ditch her original game plan.
“You go back a year and you see Hillary turning the corner,” said pollster John Zogby, whose polling has shown 90 percent of registered Democrats opposed to the President’s handling of the war in Iraq. “You see her turning, turning, turning, so that it gives all the appearances of a natural evolution. But what it is, is a full realization that a general-election strategy based on the inevitability of a Hillary nomination has been put aside.”
Mrs. Clinton’s staff cast the shift as a logical reaction to a changing situation.