Then-President-elect Barack Obama, left, stands with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, (D-N.Y.) on Dec. 1, 2008, after announcing that she is his choice as secretary of state during a news conference in Chicago. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

UPDATE Aug. 10: A new national poll from Monmouth University reaffirms why Clinton has to avoid being cast as a third term for Obama. Just 27 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Obama for a third term if he could run for one; among Democrats, 43 percent said they would not support Obama in a third term and would prefer someone else.

The poll asked this question after Obama posited recently that he might be able to win a third term if he were constitutionally allowed to run for one.

Original Post

There's a nugget buried deep within the new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll that speaks to the challenge for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she tries to follow President Obama into office next November.

Just 30 percent of people polled said that the next president "should take an approach similar to that of Barack Obama" while two thirds preferred a "different" approach than the one of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Obama is far from the only president to experience that let's-just-move-on-to-something-different mentality from the American public.  In November 2007, just 21 percent of respondents in NBC-WSJ polling wanted the next president to adopt an approach like that of George W. Bush. In November 1999, just over one in three (36 percent) wanted the next president to be like Bill Clinton.

We are a pendulum people when it comes to politics. Eight years tends to be enough, in our collective minds, for any one party to control the White House, no matter how much we like or dislike the job the current president has done. (Usually, by eight years in, we don't like the job the president is doing. We are a fickle people.)

Those tendencies are what makes what Hillary Clinton is trying to do in 2016 so difficult. While everyone likes to note that just over two decades ago Republicans held the White House for 12 straight years, what almost no one mentions is how long ago it was that Democrats won three straight presidential terms.

If you exclude FDR succeeding himself by running for a third term in 1940, the only time it's happened since the advent of the modern two-party system was in 1836 when Vice President Martin Van Buren succeeded President Andrew Jackson. That was 179 years ago!!!

As the National Constitution Center notes in a study of the three-straight-term phenomenon:

The Democrats have failed in four of their last five attempts to win three consecutive terms in office after taking two elections with the same candidate (or his legal successor), with just President Roosevelt winning in 1940 under very unusual circumstances.

The failed Democratic candidates include James Cox (1920), Adlai Stevenson (1952), Hubert Humphrey (1968), and Al Gore (2000). That puts the batting average for the Democrats at .333.

Clinton allies will note, of course, that hitting .333 would get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And that her situation is unique from the other historical examples because of both her prominence prior to Obama's election and the fact that she ran against him in 2008. How could the person who tried to keep Obama from being the Democratic nominee in 2008 be cast as a third Obama term, they ask.

Well, because Clinton's last job in public life was as secretary of state, serving as the nation's top diplomat for President Obama. And because she has been strongly supportive of him — and his policies on contentious issues like the Iran deal — since she ended her primary challenge to him seven years ago.

America Rising, a conservative opposition research shop, has already seized on the idea — putting a document out in late 2014 titled: "10 Reasons Why Clinton 2016 = Obama's Third Term." And Republican politicians are larding their statements — on totally unrelated matters — with references to "the Obama-Clinton agenda." Witness Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus touting the organization's fundraising totals earlier this year; "Even though Hillary Clinton has been in hiding, we will continue to make the case that America deserves better than a third term of the Obama-Clinton policies," Priebus said.

And, aside from Republican spin, there is some solid evidence that as Obama goes Clinton goes. This chart, comparing the favorable numbers of the two pols, comes from 538.


The reality is that no matter how hard Clinton runs away from Obama — and there's not much evidence she's doing that at the moment as she seeks to beat back a challenge from her ideological left — in the 2016 general election, her fate, at least in part, will be tied to him. If history is any guide, that's bad news for Clinton's chances.