Obama/Clinton in 2012?

If you believe Jonathan Alter, there is a good chance this could happen next year if Obama’s re-election prospects look questionable.   His argument is simple.  Obama, Biden and Clinton all get along well and like each other.    Obama doesn’t want to make a change, but they all agree that the threat of a total conservative take over all three branches is unacceptable.  They will “do what it takes” to win, even if that means what Alter calls a “switcheroo.”

Back in 2008 Joe Biden seriously lobbied to become Secretary of State.  He’s always had a strong interest in foreign policy, and probably had the inside track for the job before Obama offered him the VP slot.   To move from VP to Secretary of State would be something Biden could honestly embrace as a positive career move.   Rather than presiding over the Senate and making speeches at ceremonial events, he’d be in the rough and tumble world of foreign policy.   The Secretary of State position is substantively more important than the Vice Presidency.

Biden's passion has always been foreign policy

Hillary Clinton has already said she plans to retire after the end of Obama’s first term.   The Secretary of State position is especially demanding, and she has been an active and effective top diplomat.    Moving to Vice President would be the one way she’d stay active in the Administration.   First, it puts her a step closer to the Presidency and makes her the odds on favorite in 2016 should Obama win or lose.   In 2012 she turns 65 meaning she’d be 69 if she ran in 2016.    It would probably be her last shot.

Second, it keeps her close to the action without the kind of pace and demands her current job has.  This would allow her more freedom to expand her pursuits yet still be in the center of big decisions.   If Obama loses no one could blame her or the Clintons for any lack of loyalty.  If Obama wins, the odds of her becoming the first woman President increase.

What would it do to the campaign dynamic?   For Obama it could shore up his liberal base and his appeal with women voters.   Women put Obama over the top in 2008 and recent polls show his support in that demographic group is slipping.  If the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney he’ll probably draw a lot of female voters from Obama (Rick Perry or Herman Cain not so many).    Hillary’s supporters, some of whom remain lukewarm to Obama, would be energized even if they remain a bit bitter.

That’s really what Vice Presidential choices are usually about – you try to keep a party united and avoid the kind of collapse that Jimmy Carter suffered late in his campaign.   Carter looked in position to eek out a victory against Reagan in 1980 but a bad debate performance coupled with news that the Iranian hostage situation had no end in sight coming days before the election pushed tepid Democrats to Reagan.  Clinton as VP might be a firewall against that.  Even if Obama loses, the Democrats need to avoid the Senate and House loses that gave the GOP de facto control of all branches of government in the early eighties.    The Democrats lost 33 House seats that year and held a majority — but the conservative southern Democrats sided with Reagan and gave him a working majority.   Hillary as VP candidate might be the best bet at keeping the Senate in Democratic hands.

Beyond keeping the base faithful, the choice of a VP candidate usually doesn’t matter much.   Arguably choosing Sarah Palin hurt John McCain, however, and when McGovern dumped Eagleton in 1972 that hurt him.    This suggests that a candidate can be hurt by a VP choice if it reflects poorly on the candidate’s judgment.    When Roosevelt dumped Wallace in favor of Truman in 1944 that didn’t hurt; Ford was probably helped by replacing Rockefeller with Dole in 1976 (though he narrowly lost the election).

So the big question for Obama is whether or not pulling a switcheroo would make him appear weak or be exercising poor judgment?   The latter would have to be no; very few people would think that Hillary would be a bad Vice President and the fact that Biden would be given his dream job means he won’t be seen as throwing Joe “under the bus.”   But the Republicans would paint that as an “act of desperation” due to Obama’s “failed Presidency.”     He needs Hillary because he’s “in over his head.”

That would be a political problem for Obama, but the people most likely to believe that rhetoric are those who won’t vote for Obama anyway — many of whom still don’t like the Clintons.    Obama could, of course, turn the argument around.  “Given the depth of this crisis, I feel we need to make sure we have the best personnel where they are needed.  The politically easy thing to do would be to avoid criticism and keep things as they are.   I am not afraid to be criticized for doing what is best for the country.”

Praising Hillary profusely, he could argue that her work as Secretary of State has helped guide the US through a dangerous period of draw downs in Iraq, a policy to turn Afghanistan into a success, and on going counter terrorism efforts which netted many top al qaeda targets including Osama Bin Laden.   Now her talents need to be harnessed to address on going economic difficulties.   Biden’s been good in that regard, but his passion is foreign policy.    The subtext would be clear: Bill Clinton’s hand would be present, and we all remember the budget surpluses and low unemployment during his term.

The more I think of it, the more the move makes sense.   If Obama’s team is reasonably confident about the election, they might fear this would muck things up.   President Obama clearly would rather not be seen as being ‘rescued’ by the Clintons, but he’s not the type to let pride get in the way of making a smart decision.    It would certainly bring excitement to the Democratic campaign, especially if this were announced in mid-summer.

At the very least it would bring the bitter 2008 primary feud full circle.   Next year should be entertaining in any event.

  1. #1 by Ron Rouintree on October 14, 2011 - 23:06

    A most interesting possibility. I believe Hillary has been one of the most effective Secretary of States in my lifetime, but before Obama offered that position to her I was hoping he would select Joe Biden.
    But after seeing how effective Hillary Clinton has been in that position I wish she would stay on for another 4 years. However, is she decides otherwise I would hope she would take the VP slote and Joe would take Secretary of State. I would then get my wish, just 4 years late, but worth waiting for.

  2. #2 by Alan Scott on October 15, 2011 - 00:50

    Scott ,

    I actually brought up this idea sometime ago on another board. Hillary as Obama’s running mate was the only thing I believed that could save the Obama Presidency . It was the only thing that really scared me. Now, I say it is far too late. I believe even Hillary has concluded that .

    Plus even though they have played nice in public, I’m sure Hillary nurses plenty of grudges and really could not stand being number 2 behind Obama . That someone on the left has come out with this idea shows desperation. Again , politically even Hillary cannot save the Obama Presidency .

    • #3 by Scott Erb on October 15, 2011 - 01:52

      Well, I still think Obama is likely to win, but time will tell on that one. One key is to win back his base, who is very upset that has governed more center-right than they expected. From all reports Obama, Biden and Clinton get along really well and like each other. In any event, Hillary would do whatever it took to try to avoid having the GOP win in 2012. Obama’s campaign team shouldn’t be underestimated – especially with the money they’ll have, and the negatives the Republican Congress now has. The public is upset with both parties, and that leaves the door open. I think Romney would have a good shot against Obama, but if it’s Perry or Cain, Obama may have an easier run than most people expect.

  3. #4 by pino on October 15, 2011 - 23:40

    If Obama’s team is reasonably confident about the election, they might fear this would muck things up.

    I agree with you. I think the move would be more of an internal “confidence barometer”.

  4. #5 by Alan Scott on October 16, 2011 - 04:22


    I naturally see it very differently. Obama’s true base ain’t that big. He got a lot of cross over groups in 2008. All kinds of groups were mad at the GOP and the economy tanked at the exact right time for Obama. I find it hilarious how Obama received so much Wall Street money and now his idiot street mob is occupying Wall Street .

    Anyway in today’s Wall Street Journal , an article where they interviewed a Liberal Billionaire is instructive. This is a guy that thought Obama was a reasonable Democrat That maybe he wasn’t a socialist. Then he watched as Obama sent half the stimulus money to the cities and states, to kick back money to the Democrat supporters, the government unions. No shovel ready infrastructure jobs. That is why even Democrats did not want to vote for a second “jobs ” bill this time .

    The crony capitalists and those being blackmailed by Obama’s bureaucrats will still pony up to the bar. The rich liberals who have nothing to fear from or gain from Obama will not .

    As far as the negatives for the Republican Congress, polls are very deceiving. National polls are not that important . The Tea Party Republicans were specifically sent to Washington to stop Obama. The base that sent them there is a little angry they did not reverse Obama’s policies, but they did stop further progress. That base is not going to now send liberals to Congress. If anything it will send more extreme anti Obama candidates.

  5. #6 by brucetheeconomist on October 16, 2011 - 23:25

    Hasn’t Hillary stated she doesn’t intend to run int 2016. I thought she had given up on idea, not wanting to President so late in life.

    Is it just me, but in looking at recent photos, I think the Secretary of State job has really aged her.

    • #7 by Scott Erb on October 17, 2011 - 01:19

      Politicians always can change when the circumstances change. She has said she’s not interested in 2016, and it’s interesting to speculate on what her appearance would mean in a campaign. I think if she became VP all bets would be off about her future.

  6. #8 by Alan Scott on October 19, 2011 - 00:16

    I say Obama is toast and it’s too late for Hillary to save him. It’s just a question of which Republican is our next President. I still believe Perry could turn it around. A Perry-Caine ticket would be perfect.

    • #9 by Scott Erb on October 19, 2011 - 00:25

      Obama’s team would crush Perry and Cain. The only one likely to beat Obama is Mitt Romney. I still think Obama is the favorite — he has the campaign team, money, and Republicans will beat up on each other during the primaries. Maybe if Mitt wraps it up early he’ll push Obama to underdog status, but Perry-Cain would be a disaster for the GOP. If either Perry or Cain get nominated they have to pick someone more establishment for the VP position or they’re toast.

  7. #10 by Alan Scott on October 19, 2011 - 01:59


    The Republicans need to beat up on each other. This is a Darwinian process. Even though they are providing Obama with ammunition to use against the winner, they must toughen up . The real fight against Obama will be as dirty as Obama can make it . Right now Mitt is the best debater, but Perry is a better street fighter. Cain will fade unless he builds organization, which he is not doing .

    Once our nominee is picked , everyone will kiss and make up . Obama is such a bad President that all groups will unite to get rid of him . The so called independents are not coming back to Obama . Again, the economy tanked perfectly for him last time. Many who were voting for McCain switched at the last minute because of that .

    Obama can rally his base all he wants, it simply is not big enough to save him . For better or worse big money will win in the next election. That’s why Obama is beating the Wall Street bushes while his street mob tries to scare those same capitalists . A lot of these smelly hippies are even too stupid to vote . But they are good brown shirts.

    • #11 by Scott Erb on October 19, 2011 - 02:14

      Perhaps — Obama and Hillary beating up on each other didn’t stop Obama from winning. I disagree that Obama has been a bad President, he inherited the worst economic crisis since the great depression, and I think he’s handled it as well as anyone would have. I think his foreign policy has been very successful. But people vote based on the economy, so he’s vulnerable. I do think that the Democrats will also become united if there is a real right wing candidate like Perry. Romney, however, might not scare people as much and push down Democratic votes. I also think you under estimate Obama’s campaign team (even Republican insiders are scared) and the OWS movement is a big deal. They aren’t smelly hippies, they are extremely well organized and have shown a surprising resiliency. Dissing them like the left dissed the tea party is understandable, but underestimate them at your own risk!

  8. #12 by Alan Scott on October 19, 2011 - 12:07


    You do recognize that it is always much easier for the party out of power to build and maintain unity. When you are in power it is harder. OWS so far is a good street mob. That has to translate into votes for it to matter. The Tea parties did that . In Greece the mobs have degenerated into throwing gasoline bombs at the police. My side will increasingly tie that type of violence to the OWS. That will hurt them . I think that as OWS becomes frustrated and cold, it will be difficult for them to control their violent elements .They are quite diverse. They have a criminal element to them that preys on their own people .

    • #13 by Scott Erb on October 19, 2011 - 13:00

      Usually being out of power helps, but if the GOP nominate someone out of the mainstream they may find themselves like the Democrats in 1972 when they nominated McGovern. Obama’s more vulnerable than Nixon was, but the candidate matters. OWS is very well organized. They have, for instance, a sanitation system that picks up trash, cleans the streets around there, and have made arrangements with the trash collectors of NY city on where to bring the trash. They have several working groups, they provide food, blankets, and have a lot of money on hand thanks to donations. They have a committee to approve funding of projects over $100, and they can give instant approval for spending less than that if it is deemed worth while. It’s organized like a mini-city. They may or may not be wrong headed, but one thing they are not is unorganized or a mob!

  9. #14 by Alan Scott on October 19, 2011 - 16:25


    I have heard that cell phones, and at least one $5,000 Mac computer was stolen. That in the middle of the night thieves came in and stole the next day’s food money from a kitchen while people were asleep in the kitchen . Does OWS call the police after actively trying to cause incidents with the police ?

    I liken today’s environment to be more like 1980 . Conventional wisdom was that Ronald Reagan was too nuts to beat anybody . I am not worried at all about this issue. Only the most hardcore Obamaites will vote for him, no matter who the GOP runs against him . The election of Scott Walker, the midterm GOP sweeps in the House of Representatives, and the failures in Wisconsin, all show the tide to still be running against Obama.

    OWS has to prove it can translate it’s power into votes. I do not think they can .

    • #15 by Scott Erb on October 19, 2011 - 17:15

      Carter was even and even slightly ahead until he had disastrous final week (debate, bad news from Iran, etc.) Reagan, who would be rejected by today’s tea party as too liberal, was a much stronger, more charismatic candidate than Perry or Cain. Scott Walker’s approval ratings, by the way, are very low.

      Look, you’re just seeing what to your side would be a best case scenario and putting on some bravado and proclaiming it so. But reading the experts, and remembering how quickly the pendulum could swing (this could be more like 1996, two years after the GOP won big) and I think deep down you know that Obama is still got a very good chance at re-election. Looking at the electoral map it’s clear too. Romney would have a strong chance to beat Obama, but Perry and Cain are such flawed candidates that things would have to be really bad in November for them to win. And if the economy starts picking up in 2012, well, Obama could still win big, and the Democrats could take back the House.

      So you’re bravado is that Obama is toast and it’s like 1980, my bravado is that the Democrats are in a better position to take back the House than most people realize (though some are predicting that to be possible). Time will tell.

  10. #16 by Scott Erb on October 19, 2011 - 17:21

    Oh, if the GOP wants to be like Reagan in 1980, they have to change their tone. One reason Reagan won is that he was optimistic and had a very positive message and demeanor. He did not run an angry or bombastic campaign. Only Buddy Roemer and Jon Huntsman have had a truly positive tone.

  11. #17 by Alan Scott on October 20, 2011 - 01:05


    Since we have reached an impasse on the current line of who has the best chance of winning next year, I will go to a different angle of argument. Not that this is new or I had to look far, but it illustrates the conflict Obama and OWS have .


    ” Obama has fewer donors from the finance sector than Romney but is simply able to collect more money from each of them. ”

    Obama plays class warfare, OWS bashes Wall Street, yet as the article notes, the President is taking money from Wall Street. And he gets more from fewer people. Which means the richer rich are backing him . Your average OWS protester seems unaware of that fact .

    • #18 by Scott Erb on October 20, 2011 - 01:24

      Most of the people I know who are strongly supportive of OWS do not like Obama, they consider him “Republican light.” They are very aware of his Wall Street ties, that’s why they have signs that say “Obama Eats with Wall Street,” etc. Many are disappointed, thinking he sold out.

      Obama doesn’t play class warfare though — just asking to close loopholes isn’t class warfare!

  12. #19 by Alan Scott on October 21, 2011 - 01:26


    They say they do not like President Obama, but they will vote for him. And Obama is definitely a rabid class devider . It works politically . Imagine if we were talking sex. We would be wanting to penalize everyone who had a better looking partner than us . Partners of ugly people would occupy , I don’t know what, Hollywood, the Playboy mansion ?

    But it is money. Like the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese revolution , demonizing the rich always causes disaster.

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