Friday, August 17, 2012
Is the conventional wisdom on Biden's inevitable renomination crumbling?
In the "fabulous fourth-hand gossip, but could this possibly be true?" category, Robert Costa at NRO's The Corner quotes Larry Kudlow's CNBC interview with Edward Klein, author of a controversial recent book about Obama and his administration called The Amateur. Klein, in turn, claims to know from Clintonista sources that the White House was "putting out feelers" about Hillary replacing Biden "up until just a couple of weeks ago," when Hillary supposedly turned down the offer. There's much more — Bubba's name is mentioned — but read the whole titilating tale.
I wonder if Jay Carney interprets "a couple of weeks ago" to be the same as "a long, long time ago"? Because, you know, in a political campaign, it can be. Ask the ghost of Thomas Eagleton, the "18-Day Nominee" whom George McGovern continued to trust in 1972 even after news leaked of Eagleton's hospitalizations for exhaustion and depression and his electroconvulsive therapy sessions. Indeed, McGovern went on record saying that he was "one thousand percent for Tom Eagleton," and that he had "no intention of dropping him from the ticket." And McGovern struck doggedly to those positions, too, for several more hours at least.
On the one hand, it's not hard to imagine that replacing Biden might have become a more-than-theoretical inquiry after Biden's off-script comments forced Obama's timing on his gay marriage reversal (or as I prefer to call it, Obama's very belated joinder in my own and Dick Cheney's position). On the other hand, though, it would have been imprudent for Obama to turn over any cards — even to Hillary, and arguably especially to Hillary — before he knew who Romney was going to pick as the GOP's nominee-presumptive. And Team Obama is presumably already pretty sure that they've thoroughly vetted Hillary, who'd been under intense public scrutiny for over a decade before Team Obama even began their "opposition research" for the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. If he wanted her to accept, the smart play would have been to clam up, sit tight, and then have Obama spring it on Hillary in person, on short notice and with a short fuse. But on the third hand, that may be imputing better organization and planning, and more acute political sophistication, to Team Obama than it deserves.
I'd surely like to see how Frank J imagines that alleged lunchtime conversation between Hillary and Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett might have taken place, though.
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(1) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 10:35:42 AM | Permalink
If Klein's sources are right, then it sounds like Hillary thinks Obama-Hillary would win but that would be the death knell for her election in 2016. I think she's right on both counts.
Hillary is smarter than Obama but she's not a risk-taker, which is one reason why I'm glad Obama won in 2008 instead of Hillary. Obama went a bridge too far and Americans don't like it. As President, Hillary wouldn't have accomplished as much as Obama has, but her changes would have been permanent.
(2) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 10:40:52 AM | Permalink
The most interesting part of this gossip is picturing Obama-Michelle-Jarrett admitting they need the Clintons.
(3) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 12:16:08 PM | Permalink
(4) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 12:56:35 PM | Permalink
Also s/Robert Gibbs/Jay Carney
Doh! — I've corrected my mistaken reference to Gibbs in the text of this post, and also the spelling of Klein's name. Apologies all around, thank you, Milhouse.
DRJ: I can easily believe that some Clintonista sources who've spoken to Klein would very much like for people to think that Obama-Michelle-Jarrett were admitting they needed Hillary. All very plausibly deniable. And classic Clinton, whether true or disinformation, or (as is most likely) some mix of both with heavy spin.
(6) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 5:56:18 PM | Permalink
That's true. The Clintons are known for this kind of thing.
(7) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 6:17:47 PM | Permalink
If it is Clinton spin, then doesn't this mean the Clintons believe that leaking this won't hurt Hillary with Democrats in 2016? Even for the Clintons, this seems like a risk because Hillary might be viewed as willing to let the Democratic Party lose just to help Obama win. Obama would willingly do that, but wouldn't the Clintons find a way to appear more loyal to their Party?
(8) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 6:19:45 PM | Permalink
I said that wrong. Let me try again:
If it is Clinton spin, then doesn't this mean the Clintons believe that leaking this won't hurt Hillary with Democrats in 2016? Even for the Clintons, this seems like a risk because Hillary might be viewed as willing to let Obama and the Democratic Party lose, so she could improve her chances of winning in 2016.
Obama would willingly do that, but wouldn't the Clintons find a way to appear more loyal to their Party?
The key is plausible deniability.
If there's no independent confirmation of Klein's story — and the only people with personal knowledge are presumably in either the Obama camp or the Clinton camp, so it's hard to think how there's likely to be — then it's a one-off, a bit of unproved gossip that makes Hillary look potent and in control as viewed by the politically obsessed (which includes insiders of all camps on both sides of the aisle). But it doesn't catch on broadly across the American public; it's not so blatant a provocation that Team Obama suffers worse by ignoring it than they would by addressing it (e.g., by firing her as SecState, which she's clearly at little risk of).
Hillary won't ever push Obama as far as MacArthur pushed Truman over Korea/China. And superficially she has to appear to be a team player at least through November 2012.
Planting a false story like this (and I still think it's probably false or mostly false, although I think Klein is probably telling the truth that someone in the Clinton camp said those things) with a source exactly like Klein strikes me as exactly the kind of rough earlobe-tweak that the Clintonistas delight in giving even to their nominal allies. It's like the defensive back trash-talking about the wide receiver's little sister, hoping to provoke the wide receiver into something that will draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Or perhaps more accurately, since Obama and Clinton are at least nominally teammates instead of opponents for the nonce, it's like an offensive center maliciously twitching in a way that won't be flagged, but that will trigger his left guard teammate into embarrassing himself with an illegal procedure penalty. Against a nominal teammate, one probably can't get away with that kind of stuff more than once in any given game, though.
I genuinely do not know how Hill & Bill analyze the current race, so I have no confidence that I can predict how they actually will behave. I know they'll do what they think is in her best short- and middle-term political interests, but I don't think she has political interests past 2016, unless it's to run for a second term at age 73 in 2020. They simply have to treat 2016 as her last realistic throw of the dice, but I just don't know whether that means they'll try to slip a discrete stiletto into Obama's back if they can get away with the crime, or if they'll just sit on the sidelines, or indeed, if they'll enthusiastically campaign for Obama. I can see arguments for any of those courses, but they all depend on how you rate Obama-Biden[?]'s chances against Romney-Ryan.
I'm sure the Clintons think they're smarter about such predictions than I think I am, and they may well be right about that. As for me, though, I still rate November as a toss-up right now. We're not even to the conventions quite yet. I don't think it's at all unreasonable to expect Team Obama to be throwing out would-be mini-October surprises on at least a weekly basis between now and Election Day, and one never knows which might get the kind of traction the Dubya's-DWI story got just before Election Day 2000.
I'm counting no chickens, but since the Ryan announcement, I'm feeling better about the eggs at least.
(10) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 20, 2012 11:46:41 AM | Permalink
This August 6, 2012, report on Biden's frequent vacations doesn't corroborate the story about Hillary, but it does fit the timeline.
(11) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 20, 2012 11:54:24 AM | Permalink
I agree it's hard to get into the Clinton's minds -- if only because they are playing political chess while I'm playing checkers -- but I think the issue is what Obama thinks, not Hillary or Bill. I don't have any doubt that Obama would change VPs if he thought he was losing this election, and there are reasons to believe he thinks he is. Especially in late July - early August, after his campaign had unleashed several expensive attacks on Romney that didn't significantly move the polls and (worse yet for Obama) Romney was pulling ahead in fundraising.
Was it conceivable at that point in time that Obama might think he needed a gamechanger? You betcha!
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