Government gridlock boosts ‘Team Clinton’
by RUSS STEWART
Amid the so-called "government shutdown" and on the cusp of the deadline to raise the country’s $17 trillion debt ceiling, two voices have been notably, and probably joyously, silent — "Team Clinton."
While the Boehner-led House Republicans and the Obama Administration and Harry Reid’s Senate remain implacably obdurate, the path to a restoration for Hillary and Bill Clinton has become crystal clear, and a 2016 presidential win looks not just likely, but almost inevitable.
In fact, "Team Clinton’s" strategy to snare the presidency can be summarized in a few words: Bail out. Shut up. Disappear. Say nothing. Let the idiots make fools of themselves. Get far, far away from Barack Obama.
The tabloids are proclaiming that Hillary, who will be age 69 in 2016, is hoping to be a grandmother and is "recharging" after a grueling 4 years as U.S. secretary of state. She has dropped from sight. Are she and Bill still an item? Nobody really cares, but nobody doubts that Bill Clinton would relish being the first husband for 4 or 8 years.
The former president, it will be remembered, pioneered the concept of triangulation. That meant taking a "third way," in juxtaposition with and contrary to the Democrats’ predictable liberalism and the Republicans’ habitual conservatism. "Team Clinton’s" 2016 strategy is obvious.
First, sever all ties to Obama. As the nation’s foreign policy chief from 2009 to 2012, Hillary Clinton burnished her credentials to the umpteenth degree. She was in charge when Osama bin Laden was killed, there were no serious foreign crises, and the Iranian nuclear weapons situation was not at critical mass. She bailed out when her popularity was highest and her accomplishments were brightest. To stay for 4 more years would have risked blame for any foreign policy screw-up and would have tied her indelibly to Obama.
Second, reinvent herself. Voters’ memories are notoriously short, and politicians can readily refashion their image. Once renowned for her impatience, temper and insistence on doing everything her way, expect Clinton to continue her evolution into the calm, mature, experienced and reasonable candidate.
Enough of the contention, partisanship and intransigence, she will say, promising to "work together" to solve America’s problems. That is exactly what voters will want in 2016.
Third, play Hamlet. The Democrats’ 2016 nomination is hers for the taking, and let’s get real, who in their right mind wouldn’t grab the presidency if it were offered on a silver platter? "Team Clinton" will be coy for the next 2 years, until well after the 2014 congressional elections, slyly choreographing an endless stream of Democratic heavyweights begging her to run to "save the party."
It will be almost Shakespearian: "To run or not to run, that is the question." As long as Hillary "ponders the question," the 2016 Democratic field will be frozen, unable to seriously raise funds. As it is, the potential contenders, aside from Vice President Joe Biden, are definitely second tier. They include Governors Marty O’Malley of Maryland, Andrew Cuomo of New York and John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Senators Mark Warner of Virginia, Kristin Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
There definitely will be a female Democrat seeking the presidency in 2016, but Gillibrand, Klobuchar and Baldwin can’t begin organizing and raising money until and unless Hillary opts out, and if Cuomo runs, he will control New York and Gillibrand, who succeeded Clinton in the U.S. Senate in 2009, will be out.
Of course, if Clinton passes, Biden would have the right of first refusal. In 2016 he would be the "Obama candidate." He also would be 74 years old if he is elected. Warner, who can self-fund his candidacy, will be the first to announce, but he can easily fold if Clinton enters the race and angle for the vice presidency on her ticket.
Fourth, hope for the best in 2014, which is a huge anti-Obama, pro-Republican sweep, akin to the 1994 election. The Republicans’ U.S. House majority is 235-200, and the Senate is 53-47 Democratic. If, despite all their current negativity, the Republicans increase their House margin and capture the Senate, Obama will be marginalized. In the last 2 years of his second term, Obama will be the proverbial lame duck, able only to veto what the Republicans pass.
In the Clintons’ best-case scenario, the Democrats will retain the Senate in 2014, which means the checkmate of 2013-14 will carry through to 2015-16, giving voters an incentive to vote against everybody in 2016, which is perfect for Clinton.
In Clinton’s worst-case scenario, the Democrats win back the House in 2014 and keep the Senate, meaning that Obama and the Democrats can’t blame anybody else for their stupidity and mistakes during 2015-16 and will hand off the presidency to a Republican.
Fifth, Clinton must emerge as the "non-Obama" aspirant, but she cannot antagonize the Democrats’ liberal and minority base, which venerates the president. Using her gender, not her philosophy, Clinton can run as the "change" candidate.
However, if discontent with Obama is cresting, then "Team Clinton" will have to change the dynamic, tie the Republican presidential nominee to the Republicans in Congress, and run a negative campaign.
The 2016 election could be 1948 all over. In that year, the so-called "do-nothing" Republican-controlled 80th Congress was excoriated by President Harry Truman, and the Democrat won 24,612,716-22,017,929, getting 49.5 percent of the vote, winning 303 electoral votes and reaffirming the majority Roosevelt Democratic coalition.
But 2016 also could be 2000 all over. In that year, as Bill Clinton was exiting, Al Gore chose not to be Clinton II, and he failed to make the contest a referendum on Clinton I.
Finally, Hillary must avoid the fatigue factor which follows any two-term administration. Since 1952 only once has a party held the White House for 12 continuous years — in 1988. After 8 years of poor judgment, ineptitude or scandals, voters invariably opt to reject the incumbents, as is manifested by a deteriorated vote total.
Franklin Roosevelt was re-elected to a third term in 1944, getting 25,612,916 votes (53.9 percent of the total) and 432 electoral votes, and topping Republican Thomas Dewey by a margin of 3,594,987 votes. Truman succeeded to the presidency upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945, and he ran in 1948 on the premise of perpetuating his predecessor’s New Deal policies. He got 24,612,716 votes against Dewey, or 1,433,569 fewer votes than Roosevelt did in 1944.
By 1952 Truman was monumentally unpopular and voters were ready for a party change. Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II general, beat Adlai Stevenson 34,075,529-27,375,090, a margin of 6,700,439 votes, getting 55.2 percent of the vote and winning 442 electoral votes. Stevenson got 3.2 million more votes than Truman did in 1948, but Eisenhower got 12 million more votes than Dewey did in 1948.
Clearly, there were more voters in 1952, and many more dissatisfied voters than in 1948.
Eisenhower is rated a competent president, but his term did not reverse the country’s Democratic trend, as the Democrats retook Congress in 1954. Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956 by a margin of 35,579,180-26,028,028, getting 57.4 percent of the vote and winning 457 electoral votes. He got 1.5 million more votes than he did 1952, and Stevenson got 1.3 million fewer.
John Kennedy used his youth and "let’s get moving again" theme to squeeze out a narrow 34,220,984-34,108,157 victory over Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon got 1.4 million fewer votes than Eisenhower got in 1956, but Kennedy got 8.1 million more votes than Stevenson got. As in 1952, the "change" theme brought out seven million more voters.
The same two-terms-and-out cycle occurred in 1968, when Nixon won after the Kennedy-Johnson reign and voters were distressed with Vietnam, and in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won after the Nixon-Ford tenure, when voters were enraged with the Watergate scandal.
The trend persisted in 1988, when Republican George Bush won 48,886,597-41,809,476, with 53.4 percent of the vote, but still ran 5.5 million votes behind Ronald Reagan’s 1984 showing. The trend was broken in 2000, when Vice President Gore actually beat George W. Bush in the popular vote by 51,003,926-50,460,110, a margin of more than 500,000 votes, but still lost the electoral vote 271-266. Both presidents had second-term problems — Reagan had Iran-Contra and Clinton had Monica Lewinsky — but they remained personally popular at the end of their terms.
Bush was re-elected over John Kerry in 2004 by a margin of 62,040,606-59,028,109, getting 50.7 percent of the vote. By 2008 Bush Administration economic and foreign policy failures made a Democratic victory inevitable. Obama, like Kennedy and Carter, ran on a "change we need" theme, and his race made him uniquely unbeatable. Obama trounced John McCain 69,499,428-59,950,373, getting 52.9 percent of the vote, winning 365 electoral votes and taking 26 states. Obama had 10 million more votes than Kerry, and McCain two million fewer than Bush.
In 2012, despite an anemic economy, the Obama coalition held firm, generating a 65,917,257-60,932,235 win (with 51 percent of the vote) over Mitt Romney. Obama’s vote was down 3.5 million, and Romney’s was up just one million over 2008.
The 2016 questions: Do voters want a change? Is the Republican ceiling 61 million votes? Can Hillary Clinton, like Harry Truman, keep the Obama/Democratic coalition intact? This much is clear: Clinton is the Democrat with the best chance to win.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.