Jonathan Alter, longtime Newsweek scribe and author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One, wrote late last week that he now sees an Obama-Clinton ticket as having long odds, but possible. Other pundits have recently waved the flag for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, often seen as a 2016 hopeful, as a 2012 Biden replacement instead. And then today, there’s this far-fetched doozie: A former Virginia Democratic party chairman and a public policy professor are even going so far as to propose the promise of a Barack-Bubba ticket.
I’m no political pundit, but all three of these outcomes seem unlikely to me. For one, Biden has done a respectable job of acting as the president’s legislative consigliore, despite the intransigence in Congress. While I’ve argued before about the upsides of such a Biden-Clinton switch (particularly if Biden is not a viable candidate come 2016 due to his age—he will be 74 that year), Hillary’s denials seem pretty forceful. Cuomo may be unwilling to hitch his star to Obama’s current unpopularity. And the idea of Bill Clinton as vice president sounds about as likely as Mike Shanahan saying he’d be OK with becoming the Redskins’ assistant strength and conditioning coach.
Not to mention Obama himself would have to swallow his pride and admit things are bad enough that such a change is needed. As much as it may be customary to change out chiefs of staff or cabinet members over the course of a president’s term, admitting the other half of the ticket isn’t the best person for the job is another thing entirely. For one, the unusual move could make Obama look desperate, something no campaign manager wants to project. Even moreso, some will use it as an excuse to call into question the president’s leadership judgment, and why he didn’t pick the right person from the start.
While there is a way for Obama to make an argument for a change in the VP spot, it won’t be easy. The Bill Clinton idea is a preposterous one, I believe, because it doesn’t showcase the party’s future. That said, if Obama was able to move Biden into the Secretary of State position, he could possibly draft Hillary, or Cuomo, into the No. 2 spot, all in the name of helping the party’s future. As I’ve written before, in a business setting, CEOs think nothing of rotating top managers so that there are more people with the right kind of experience to take over the top job in the future. Obama could certainly argue the same thing here.
I think much of this speculation has the feel of armchair quarterbacking by a bunch of talking heads, and seems unlikely to ever take form. But if it is to happen, the only way it will work is for Obama to carefully position it not as a way to win, but as a way to help the future good. The claims that he’s panicking could be explained by the idea that he’s doing the right thing for the party’s future—and the country’s—by installing leadership that can gain experience before they try to win in 2016. The argument for broader, more experienced resumes for future leaders works in many circles. Why not for the presidency?
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