Chelsea Clinton on ‘The Daily Show’: No politics — for now

September 20, 2013

Taking a note from her mother’s playbook, Chelsea Clinton alluded to her political ambition Thursday without revealing any specific plans.

Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” on which the former first daughter was a guest, asked whether her choice to stay out of politics was “purposeful.”

“It is,” she responded. “For this point in my life.”

On Thursday’s show, she promoted her family’s foundation, the newly renamed Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Foundation, of which she is vice chairman. Chelsea Clinton, who is scheduled to moderate a panel on non-communicable diseases at next week’s Clinton Global Initiative, has taken the relatively nonpolitical route of working in a global health organization led by her parents. The organization (which formerly included only “William J. Clinton” in its title), has opened the door for new fundraising efforts, which supporters say is a way for Clinton family backers to support Hillary in a possible 2016 run before her campaign exists.

Still, appearing on “The Daily Show” seems particularly strategic for Clinton, who, unlike most of the show’s guests, doesn’t hold public office and isn’t promoting a book or movie. She has been asked on multiple occasions whether she will follow in her parents’ political steps, to which she has almost always replied with some iteration of “not now,” as if she still might be keeping it as an option.

In an interview with CNN this summer, Clinton said: “I’m … grateful to live in a city and a state and a country where I really believe in my elected officials, and their ethos and their competencies. Someday, if either of those weren’t true and I thought I could make more of a difference in the public sector, or if I didn’t like how my city or state or country were being run, I’d have to ask and answer that question.”

“I think it says she’s looking to get involved,” said Corinne Gammon, 20, vice president of George Washington University’s College Democrats. “I don’t think you go on ‘The Daily Show’ if you’re not looking to be in the public spotlight. It’s a great forum to get your face out there to say you’re an up and coming person in the political world.”

Given the show’s initial appeal to younger audience’s, Gammon thinks Chelsea Clinton’s appearance could have been somewhat targeted.

“A lot of young people watch ‘The Daily Show,’ so she is reaching out to people in her demographic, the people she would want to support her if she were to run for office,” Gammon said. “I don’t know if she would want to follow in her mother’s footsteps and run for the New York Senate. That would be awesome.”

If her mother pursues a 2016 run, Gammon believes Chelsea would “absolutely” be helpful.

Before the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries of 2008, 50 percent of men in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll said they would definitely not vote for Hillary Clinton for the presidency. While men hold a slight majority in “The Daily Show” audience, it’s telling that Chelsea Clinton would appear on a show that appeals to men, particularly young men, a demographic her mother lost to Obama in 2008.

“Chelsea is definitely an asset in any way,” Gammon said. “She was helpful in 2008 and that was five years ago. She’ll be even more helpful now that people are more aware of her.”

Before her foray into the public eye, Chelsea Clinton lived a remarkably quiet life despite accruing more television coverage than any presidential child up until that point. In a choice moment during her interview with Stewart, she revealed what life was like before her family moved to the White House in 1993. Calling it her “most formative memory,” she recalled a “particularly nasty election” in 1986 between her father and Frank D. White for Arkansas’ governorship.

“It was my father against his opponent with a moderator,” she said. “So the three of us over many evenings and weekends would play different roles in advance of the debate. I would have to play my father’s opponent and argue positions against him.”

The soon-to-be first daughter was 6 years old at the time.

“I was told to hold my own at a very young age,” she said laughingly after Stewart asked whether she ever won arguments with her father, whom President Obama once dubbed “Secretary of Explaining Stuff.”

Though speculation over her political ambition has recently cropped up, she remains a daddy’s girl, at least when it comes to supporting them through their family’s foundation.

“Ultimately I did really care about what my parents cared about,” she said to Stewart. “Right now, I’m still trying to make my parents proud.”

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.
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