Jonathan Alter, the Newsweek columnist and MSNBC political pundit, thinks Hillary Clinton should pack it in (“Hillary Should Get Out Now,” is the headline on his recent column). Immediately, if not sooner. Stat.

But not, of course, until after tonight’s debate, live on MSNBC, 9 p.m. eastern standard time! Not that stat. Got to have the “fireworks,” as Alter’s MSNBC colleague Contessa Brewer said of the debate while interviewing Alter yesterday about his column. (Not that the debate, as Alter himself suggested while discussing his column with yet another MSNBC colleague last night, is “going to change things very much”—except, fingers crossed, MSNBC’s ratings.)

Why should Clinton depart now (well, sometime after the debate)? Alter puts forth a version of the Seinfeld Exit Strategy: you want to go out before you have to. Clinton’s choice, according to Alter, is “to go down ugly with a serious risk of humiliation at the polls, or to go down classy, with a real chance of redemption.” But whether Clinton “go[es] down ugly or classy” (or even—there are other options less stark—somewhere in between), whether she has “a chance of redemption” arguably has as much or more to do with tone as timing. Clinton could conceivably “go down classy” after Texas and Ohio. She could “go down ugly” tonight. Or yesterday. (Also a factor in how Clinton “goes down” and whether she has “a chance of redemption,” is, of course, the press.)

In his column, Alter grants permission to other pundits to join him in his call for Clinton’s withdrawal. It’s okay, he tells his peers, to close the book on Clinton now. You won’t “look foolish,” like you did on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. Writes Alter: “It’s time to stop over-learning the lesson of New Hampshire”—the lesson being, apparently, don’t prematurely call the contest lest you look foolish (not to mention discount voters, truncate the democratic process, etc).

Alter also cordially invites Hillary Clinton to defy the stereotypes he and his peers hold of her, to defy the conventional wisdom reporters have of the Clintons and power (“the conventional view is that the Clintons approach power the way hard-core gun owners approach a weapon—they’ll give it up only when it’s wrenched from their cold, dead fingers”).

“Imagine,” Alter writes, “if [Clinton] had, well, the imagination for a breathtaking act of political theater that would make her seem the epitome of grace and class and party unity, setting herself up perfectly for 2012 if Obama loses?” Imagine, more or less, if Clinton could think as grandly as Jonathan Alter of Newsweek?

“Besides,” writes Alter, Clinton exiting now “would wreck the spring of all her critics in the press. If she thinks of it that way, maybe it’s not such an outlandish idea after all.”

Think of all the negative press you’d avoid, Hillary Clinton, if you just got out of the race now.

One wonders: Is that a threat or a promise?


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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.