Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catch of the Day

I was thinking of doing a post on this, but I can't top Mori Dinauer:
Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a world where presidents facing a potentially tough re-election could simply turn to the op-ed pages of The Washington Post and find campaign advice two years in advance? Thankfully, Barack Obama lives in that world and can take David Ignatius' recommendation -- he calls it a "second-term masterstroke" -- to choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Although the column doesn't actually present any evidence that vice presidents make a difference, we can just assume that this is good advice because we can trust newspapers to describe political reality without resorting to baseless speculation.
Needless to say, there is no such evidence.  On the other hand, while we don't have much evidence concerning what happens when a president dumps his VP for no good reason, we do have two historical cases of presidents asking their entire cabinets to resign: Nixon after winning reelection, and Carter after the malaise speech.  Safe to say that neither one worked out well.  Also safe to say that there are somewhere on the order of zero Americans who are unhappy with Barack Obama but would change their minds if Hillary Clinton was demoted from Secretary of State to VP.


  1. It seems rather chutzpah-dik to tell Obama to take the advice of pundits, who greeted his entrance to the presidential race in 2007 with almost uniform skepticism and condescension.

  2. I think it was Charles Peters, founding editor of the Washington Monthly, who had the idea years ago that campaign reporters should be pulled off the trail (or off the White House beat) and sent to cover a governmental department (e.g., Defense, HHS, Enery, Labor) or agency (e.g., SEC, FDA, EPA) for a year or two. His view was that they'd learn something useful, and they'd stop viewing politics through the tired (and inaccurate) "horse race" election campaign metaphor.

    The same would be true for columnists.

  3. When I hear conservatives prescribe putting Hillary on the ticket I suspect that they’re just reaching for a politically correct pretext for calling Obama unmanly. When I hear it coming from Democrats, I think it’s either a sincere expression of buyer’s remorse or an attempt to lay the groundwork for an intra-party power grab after the mid-term elections. In either case, building Hillary up is a technique for taking Obama down.

  4. Don't all Presidents significantly reorganize their cabinets after re-election? I mean, they may not fire everyone, but then, neither did Carter.

    As for putting Hillary on the ticket, no one has explained to me how she's different enough from Obama to really change anyone's opinion of him. She's already been his Secretary of State for nearly 2 years, they're pretty much attached at the hip. This usually goes double for a primary challenge (how's she going to come at the Presidency she helped shape?), but I think it applies to expectations that she'd be a "game changer" VP, too.

  5. Surely lurking just under the frothy surface here is that favorite Beltway media fantasy about Hillary challenging Obama in 2012. Any relationship to the real political universe is beside the point.

    Expect more of the same, because there is an audience that eats this stuff up.

  6. I'll take a stab at this one since the idea of Hillary, my 2008 primary choice, becoming VP has substantial appeal and because sometimes a change at #2 is called for politically.

    First, I'd distinguish the Nixon and Carter examples this way: both were sudden and unnecessary steps perceived widely as misuses or abuses of power at a time when the sitting prez was riding high in the polls or coming off a successful event which temporarily boosted his rating. Hillary however would come on board as VP presumably with Obama riding low in the polls and needing something big -- it wouldn't be viewed as a bizarre or brutal misuse of power, but a perhaps vitally necessary one to save O's re-elect chances.

    A 2-3 day story if Biden is safely on board with agreeing to the switch to State.

    An Obama/Hillary ticket probably would rev up the excitement with what would be a fairly dispirited Dem Party in 2012, and that's so even though HRC is not substantially different on the substance of policy than Obama. I think the perception that major change in a 2d term is on tap with that historic and dynamic ticket would overshadow the actual reality of the rather similar political philosophy.

    As to whether VPs make a difference, while it's probably true they aren't usually decisive, there are enough close calls and what ifs in history to make them not entirely irrelevant, and not many had the unique, broad-based appeal of a Hillary nor her instant potential to be a game changer.

    If in 2012 the economy still is badly stalling and the re-elect #s look depressing, with prospects for major progressive legislation even more dismal than today, it wouldn't be unreasonable for Team Obama to be thinking in terms of some sort of Hail Hillary pass.

  7. I think I could envision a scenario where Hillary for VP is decisive in 2012. Suppose the top of the ticket is Obama v. Palin. Partisans will get fired up by the perceived weakness of their opponent; for swing voters, that election may be depressing, but - ceteris paribus - a potentially difficult (and thus close) one.

    Against such a backdrop, Hillary as running mate may sharpen independents' focus on the weaknesses of Palin. I understand that Presidents don't run against VPs, but with Hillary on the other side of the ticket, Palin-as-a-poor-attempt-at-Hillary could be more of a focal point of the election season.

    Might 50,000 swing voters in Ohio, who otherwise would have shaken their heads, sighed, and randomly picked between the uninspiring Obama and the incomprehensible Palin find that Palin negatives, exposed to harsher review by Hillary's presence, cause them to choose Obama?

    It seems plausible, with 50,000 votes being too few to rise above the error variance of the social scientists...but as Kerry, Ford, et al would attest, certainly enough to cost an election.


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