WASHINGTON – The squire of affluent Chappaqua, former President Bill Clinton, is a two-edged sword for his wife, Hillary, who for the second time in eight years finds herself the heavy favorite to become the next Democratic presidential nominee.
With a recent poll showing 82 percent of Democrats want her to run in 2016, why does she need him at all politically?
On the plus side, heavily, is that Bill Clinton reminds the country of much happier days – of an administration that engaged and cooperated with its adversaries, made progress on the social front, was tolerant but not radical, stayed out of big wars and rode the dot-com explosion to budgetary surpluses.
But the Clintons’ decision to have the former president campaign hard for Democratic Senate and House candidates inevitably opens the way for hard-line tea party/Republican celebrities to play other keys on the piano, namely Gennifer Flowers, Paula Corbin Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Monica Lewinsky.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., slid the “morality” roll into the player piano when Bill Clinton went to Kentucky to try to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Clinton media loyalists here and in Manhattan quickly ruled Paul’s comments about the former president’s past life out of order. One Sunday talk moderator got Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, to say Paul’s comments have no place in the campaign.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-Long Island, the chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign, says he plans to use Bill Clinton a great deal to help the party to regain the House majority this year. An interesting idea for a number of reasons. His personal past will come up in one way or another – no matter how cruelly – the more he mounts the stump.
The nastiness will build sympathy for Hillary Clinton. But with her already scoring 82 percent, what does she need sympathy for? The reason she needs Bill Clinton out there to help elect Democratic senators and House members is that she will not want to run for president if the Republicans win this fall, and are likely winners in 2016. She will not want her presidency starting out as a lame duck. So she will wait another nine months, at least, to decide.
Just as important, she needs Bill Clinton to try to change the subject from President Obama, who has been laying eggs with his health care law. This also poses risks in aggravating Clinton fatigue over the next 33 long months. And somehow, the Clintons have to finesse the connection between her most legendary activity and her notorious failure, Clintoncare, with Obamacare.
Creating prophylaxis between those two hot buttons will require industrial-strength political discipline, more than Bill Clinton showed in his wife’s primary campaign against Obama in 2008, where his loose tongue stirred up black activism for underdog Obama.
Pollster John Zogby said there already is a lot of Obama fatigue in Michigan, a state Obama easily carried twice.
No matter how personally popular Bill Clinton managed to be in 2000, his private conduct was still a heavy drag on Al Gore, who lost. Today, Obama’s approval in Michigan is “upside down,” Zogby said, with 45 percent approving and 54 percent disapproving. Ominously, only 32 percent of Michigan independents approve.
“Michigan voters speak for the nation,” Zogby said. “Voters are at record levels of disenchantment, but neither party is quite ready to pick up the mantle of his disenchantment.”
Does it then fall to Bill Clinton, the master of triangulation, to lift the hopes and dreams of Americans while she makes up her mind?