Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s nascent 2016 presidential campaign will be, from the outset, intent on avoiding the mistakes and distractions that sank her first White House run. But the team can't get rid of one of the biggest 2008 campaign distractions, because he also happens to be one of its biggest assets: Bill Clinton.
The former president is among the most popular politicians in the country, not to mention one of the most coveted Democratic surrogates and a master fundraiser.
But his gifts seemed to fail him at times back in 2008, with stumbles ranging from miniscule diversions to full-blown media crises. In one instance, he made an off-hand comment comparing then-Sen. Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson, which many charged was a racially-tinged attempt to diminish his accomplishments. In another, Clinton controversially called the Obama campaign “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen," leading many to wonder if he was out of touch with political realities on the ground.
Here's what the campaign -- and Bill Clinton himself -- has had to say about what his role might be this time around:
He might remain behind the scenes.
For his part, the former president has said that he intends on remaining behind the scenes, at least in the early stages of the campaign. The goal, he told "Town and Country" in an interview published earlier this month, is to keep the spotlight on Hillary as she attempts to reconnect with voters.
“I think it's important, and Hillary does too, that she go out there as if she's never run for anything before and establish her connection with the voters," he told the magazine. "And that my role should primarily be as a backstage adviser to her until we get much, much closer to the election.
He may be getting some messaging help.
A story in the New York Times last month reinforced the idea that Hillary’s new campaign hopes to keep a tighter lid on the president – without marginalizing him in the process. “In hopes of collaborating with Mr. Clinton better than in 2008...advisers to Mrs. Clinton are involving him more closely in early campaign planning, and they are discussing whether to deploy a senior aide to travel with him to keep him focused on his wife’s central message,” The Times' Patrick Healy and Amy Chozick wrote.
Bill Clinton’s political talents and assets are undeniable – not only is he among the best political orators of his generation, but he has also strongly benefited from a positive (and even nostalgic) consensus view of the 1990s. For those same reasons, though, it will be all but impossible to keep him out of the spotlight as his wife begins campaigning across the country.
As Politico reported last week, the former president did not take kindly to the Times’ take on his future role. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel reported: “During a private Clinton Foundation fundraiser last week in Austin, Texas, Clinton rejected the premise of a March 29 New York Times story that described him as looking ‘older than his 68 years’ and detailed efforts by Hillary Clinton advisers ‘to harness both the rare gifts and rash impulses’ of the former president."