I don't know whether this is a splintering of the party or a trial-by-fire for the eventual Democratic nominee.
My opinion is that the Obama campaign is not up to fighting a protracted battle, either with Hillary or the Republicans. I think he entered the campaign to raise his profile, and as this "momentum" built around him, he's run with it. His grassroots support has been extremely strong, his fundraising ability is exemplary, and his stump speech is inspiring and draws the crowds.
But based on these public meltdowns by top aides since Ohio and Texas, the organization built around this candidate doesn't seem to be ready for prime time. And if he doesn't have a top-shelf political staff, it's likely he doesn't have the best policy advisors either. When Hillary says that Obama is not ready to do this job on "Day One," I think there's some validity to that statement.
That said, despite his inexperience and any errors in judgment by his staff, the guy is running ahead of one of the most devastating political machines ever assembled. His younger, tech-savvy base has been built and energized by viral videos and social networking sites that are more effective than traditional ads, and cost nothing.
The will.i.am "Yes We Can" YouTube video and the "ObamaGirl" videos have reached an extraordinary number of people and cost the campaign nothing. This is an important development, and it may be the development that finally awakens the youth vote. Internet video has also dramatically increased the importance of the stump speech.
What used to be limited by the range of the candidate's voice can now be broadcast, in its entirety, worldwide on-demand. And Obama's stump speech is a great one.
Whether Obama built this movement, or whether he just represented the conditions that allowed it to form, he deserves credit for what he's accomplished.
That said, if he loses the nomination at the convention, he can go back to the Senate as a much more prominent figure. Four or eight years from now, he'll still be a fairly young man. If Hillary loses, the party will wonder "what if," and if Hillary wins, he'll burnish his resume as a leader of the party in power.
If he gets the nomination and he loses to McCain, he probably won't get another grasp at that brass ring. And if he feels that "red phone" ads are unacceptably negative, he will have a lot of trouble with the attacks on his national security policy coming from a candidate who is not backpedaling on the Iraq war issue. I also think the Republicans will make an issue of Obama's pastor.
It may be that he is the real deal and he's "fired up and ready to go," and it may be that the kind of passion he inspires in his followers will create a wave that can carry him to the White House. But November is a long way away, and he's going to have to face the press inevitably turning on him, fatigue or backlash among the supporters, and the logistical difficulties of a national campaign.