Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Madame Secretary, please hold — the President says he needs to speak with you urgently
On Sunday, I predicted that Obama will replace Biden with Hillary, and I explained why I think that:
... Paul Ryan's selection just moved Hillary Clinton from "possible" to "probable" as Biden's replacement on the 2012 Dem ticket. Look for Slow Joe to find a sudden yearing to become an elder statesman who has more time to spend with his family. I'll bet Hill & Bill are having champagne tonight. Even most of my Democratic friends will admit, if pressed, that it would be a good thing for the country to get Joe Biden out of the line of presidential succession....
Pawlenty, Portman, or even Rubio would have whipped Biden in the Veep debate and as a campaign surrogate, but not so badly as to make Biden look much worse than Biden does even with no active opponent. If Romney had chosen one of them, then keeping Biden would have been a closer call. But recall that Paul Ryan is the only Republican politician in the last two years to have obviously bested Obama himself in face-to-face argument in a public forum. And whether you credit Obama with modest or supernatural eloquence, he's certainly aware that Biden isn't in his own league, and he surely knows that Ryan will disarticulate Biden, both stylistically and substantively, in the Veep debate.
Biden turns 70 in late November, and his medical history includes two brain aneurysms. The rationale for him being on the ticket in 2008 (that he would offset Obama's foreign policy inexperience) no longer exists. He brings no constituency that Obama doesn't already have on his own now; among young voters, whose participation Obama wants desperately to encourage, Biden is very nearly as much a standing joke as he is among Republicans. There has always been a decent chance that Obama would dump him in 2012, but of course that would never conceivably have happened until Obama first saw who Romney picked, in order that Obama could know who Biden's successor would be up against. Now he knows.
The best chance the Dems have to respond to the Ryan selection would be asymmetric political warfare — which translates quite neatly into replacing Biden with the most ambitious and most popular Democrat in the country, Hillary Clinton. Indeed, that will mesh like clockwork with the coming Obama pivot to foreign policy as the best possible distractraction, and the only substantive distraction, from the economic ruin he's wrought. The rest of the Obama-Clinton campaign would largely consist of heaping calumny on Romney-Ryan and Mediscare — Dems cannot talk about the economy in anything but the most simplistic, jingoistic talking points, because anything else is poison to Obama's campaign — but SecState/Veep nominee Clinton, along with a newly energized Bubba, would surely be employed to highlight the relative lack of traditional foreign policy credentials on the part of both Romney and Ryan.
Since then, though, Biden has, in short order, told the citizens of Danville, Virginia, that "With you, we can win North Carolina again," and that Romney's "gonna put y'all back in chains."
The only thing remarkable about the latest Biden gaffe is how routine these gaffes have become, and what a cosmic double standard everyone in the public eye — the press, both campaigns, everyone but the general public and its snarky bloggers — employs to avoid asking the question, "Just how panicked would we all be if Barack Obama suddenly had chest pains?"
I could well be proved wrong. I'm out alone on my limb, it would seem. But I'll bet you there are back-up provisions in the election laws that, in the event of a convenient "health crisis" involving V.P. Biden,* or perhaps simply a decision by him that he wants to forego the nomination so he can spend more time with his family, would still let Obama pick a replacement even after the Democratic convention. I don't think he'll wait that long because Obama will want to use the convention to squeeze one last sentimental appearance out of Biden as he goes to pasture, and more importantly, to rub some of Hillary's popularity back off onto himself.
And when you say "sure, Ford changed Veeps, and FDR switched Veeps like he changed his underwear, but the Dems couldn't replace a prominent candidate this late in a major federal election these days," I have one name for you: Bob Torricelli.
If you think Hillary would say no: The conventional wisdom is that that's what "everyone" thought LBJ would say when JFK offered him the Veep nomination at the Democratic convention in 1960. Robert Caro's newest volume in his phenomenal biography of LBJ takes a fresh look at that historical surprise and concludes that it made perfect sense from both JFK's and LBJ's points of view. Caro also convincingly debunks the later attempts by the Camelot Crew (led by Bobby) to claim that JFK had only offered Johnson the spot as a "courtesy," and that JFK had been stunned when Johnson accepted, but too polite to withdraw the offer. Instead, Kennedy offered the spot to Johnson not out of any courtesy at all, but because without Johnson on the Democratic ticket, Jack Kennedy thought Nixon would probably win — it was exactly that simple, and Jack knew it whether Bobby could come to grips with it or not. The notion that Jack Kennedy would have taken on a Veep for four years who he didn't really think was the best choice, simply to avoid offending Johnson, is risible.
It will come down to one two-part question: Does Barack Obama think he'll have a better chance to win this election by replacing Biden with someone else — and if so, with whom? And as with JFK's pick of LBJ in 1960, it's exactly that simple.
*(Lest anyone think or suggest otherwise, I stress that I wish the Vice President a long and healthy life, whether in or out of politics, as his wishes and the fates decide. I bear him no personal ill-will. This is simply about him being an anchor dragging back the Obama campaign, and whether it makes political sense for Obama to replace him.)
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(1) stan made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 5:17:58 AM | Permalink
According to this, Valerie Jarrett would likely make such a call.
(2) Tregonsee made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 7:57:13 AM | Permalink
While their take on many issues will be different, the Clintons both know that this is a failed presidency, working on becoming a calamity in a second term. If Hillary were part of a second term, the next few election would be toxic for her and democrats in general. OTOH, they certainly view R&R as tolerable, if not ideal, and good targets in 2016 after making many necessary but easily demagogued changes.
Tregonsee, that is an excellent point, and an entirely plausible one. Here's why I don't quite buy it, though:
When "everyone" was sure that LBJ would turn down an offer to run as JFK's Veep nominee, one of the reasons cited was the likelihood that Nixon, the incumbent Vice President who'd served behind the vastly popular Ike, was going to sweep to victory over JFK in 1960, leaving LBJ best positioned to run in 1964.
LBJ realized, however, that his chances of getting to the White House were better as Jack Kennedy's Veep than if he'd be running against an incumbent Nixon in 1964. Johnson was much younger then than Hillary is now, yet he felt it would tempt fate to sit on the sidelines for another presidential election cycle.
Hillary will see the Veep role as something from which she can springboard much more effectively than bumbling, sigh-heaving Al Gore did in 2000. And the very fact that she's a Democratic Party star in her own right means that Obama's failures aren't likely to be attributed to her; or in any event, Obama's failures would cost her no more in the next four years as his Veep than they've cost her in the last four years as his SecState (which is, basically, not at all).
For both Obama and Hillary, then, it's all about not losing the White House this November — for him because (baring a Grover Cleveland reprise) the next four years are effectively his last chance of his lifetime, and for her because her best chance in 2016 would be to be running as a sitting Veep, an historic one at that.
Or to put it in football terms: You're suggesting that Hill & Bill think it's third and 45 to go from their own 20 — the perfect time for a third-down surprise punt, a rugby-style quick kick that might bounce down inside their opponents' 20 and pin them deep.
But you don't quick-kick during a sudden death overtime. You just don't. You may still be forced to punt to salvage some field position on fourth down, but you don't give up the ball voluntarily when it's still only third down — not during sudden death.
Hillary will only be 69 in 2016. Golda Meir was 71 when she became Israel's prime minister, but she's more the exception than the rule.
Romney-Ryan will only win in 2012 if they've convinced the American public that the GOP plan is better than the Democratic non-plan, which would in turn translate to a mandate and a Reaganesque, 1980-like watershed election. If Romney-Ryan wins in 2012, the Dems will never be able to use Mediscare again. They would actually have to come up with a better plan, and if they could do that, they'd have done it for 2012, right? Bottom line, it would be unwise to count on Romney-Ryan to be any more vulnerable in 2016 than Reagan-Bush was in 1984.
And if the Romney-Ryan ticket does win a second term in 2016 — statistically a good bet for most incumbents — then in 2020, Hillary will be 73. That's not an impossible or implausible age to mount a campaign for a presidential first term either, but it would certainly be unprecedented, and it's just not the kind of thing anyone can count on. She'd presumably be facing a sitting Veep, Paul Ryan. Certainly if Hillary aspires to be a two-term president, she has to become the nominee in 2016, and win then, as a practical matter.
Nope, no one can afford to treat the current election cycle as anything other than sudden death, meaning the game may be over before they ever touch the ball again.
(4) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 9:11:45 AM | Permalink
But I'll bet you there are back-up provisions in the election laws
Why would you need a provision in the law? It's obvious that a party can change its nominees any time it likes. The Toricelli precedent isn't even relevant; that had to go to court, and was probably illegal (and would have been decided differently had he been a Republican), because the deadline for nominations had already closed and the ballots had already been published. In this case, however, neither 0bama and Biden nor Romney and Ryan are candidates in the election. The law knows of no such thing as a "presidential candidate" or "vice presidential candidate". The candidates on November 6 are the several thousand people who are vying for seats in the electoral college. Changing a party's candidates for elector after nominations have closed may be illegal, but changing the figureheads of the campaign can't be any more illegal than changing the spokesman for a brand of soap.
On December 17, in those states where the Democratic slate was victorious, those Democratic electors will meet in their state capitals to vote for president and vice president, and they will naturally vote for whomever the Democratic Party has nominated. Which means that the Ds can change their nominees at any time until that date. Of course once Nov 6 is past there'd be no point in changing, but I can't imagine how any legal barrier to such a change could exist, even in theory, and I'm certainly not aware of any actual barrier. A fortiori a party may change its nominees at any time before Nov 6.
Milhouse, thanks very much for your analysis, keenly expressed as always. It seems right to me, but I'm not a specialist in, nor even particularly knowledgeable about, election laws. And I would have thought it equally obvious that the Florida Supreme Court couldn't selectively make and re-make election law standards for the benefit of Al Gore in 2000 either.
(6) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 10:51:10 AM | Permalink
I would have thought it equally obvious that the Florida Supreme Court couldn't selectively make and re-make election law standards for the benefit of Al Gore
Not really so obvious. The constitution says that electors shall be chosen as the state legislature directs. And in Florida the state legislature directed that the state supreme court play a role in determining challenges. There's also a not-obviously-wrong argument that state courts are the proper interpreters of what a state legislature has said, even if there were no specific grant of authority in the relevant act. The fact that they meddled in a blatantly partisan fashion is dismaying but not surprising, just like the fact that the NJ supreme court did so in the Torricelli/Lautenberg case. But as in that case, what's dismaying is not so much that they decided as they did, because the decision is not obviously wrong; rather it's the certainty that had the parties been reversed they'd have decided the opposite way.
And of course in FL there was the additional factor that the unstated but obvious purpose of the recounts Gore was seeking, and the court was approving, was to facilitate actual fraud. It's not that Gore was sure the votes were actually there for him, and needed only to be discovered by a keen-enough eye on the recount; rather his intention was that the recount would afford his supporters the opportunity to manufacture enough votes to put him over the top. That's why, although the press recount found that Bush was the winner, I maintain to this day that had the recount gone ahead Gore would have won. The press counted the votes that are actually there, not the votes that would have been there had the count gone ahead.
Editing note: I just added another paragraph from my earlier post to the large block-quote near the beginning of this post — specifically, what's now the first quoted paragraph. I also have fixed a mistake in comment 5 above; I'd written "1980" instead of "2000," but Milhouse tactfully elided my mistake from his quotation in comment 6.
(8) MarkJ made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 1:51:34 PM | Permalink
1. If you were Hillary Clinton, would you want to be joined at the hip with Obama for the next four years--regardless of your presidential aspirations?
2. If you were Hillary Clinton, would you want to be henceforth known as "the woman who replaced Joe Biden" or as "Vice-President Backup Plan"?
Obama can leave all the "Baby, come back" messages he wants in Hillary's voicemail, but the Hillster--unlike Biden--has a long memory. And "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
(9) Mark in Texas made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 2:02:29 PM | Permalink
While I am not one of those who claims that Barak Obama is the smartest man to ever run for President, I do believe that he is smart enough to not put himself into a position where the Clintons would benefit from his death.
(10) Micha Elyi made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 2:24:17 PM | Permalink
I'll bet you there are back-up provisions in the election laws that... would still let Obama pick a replacement even after the Democratic convention. --Beldar
You bet there are, they're in the Constitution itself, and they're called the Electoral College. Electors can pretty well vote for whomever they please and you don't suppose that an elector from the Obama slate would balk at casting a ballot for Obama and his handpicked Biden replacement, do you?
Per Mark in Texas' comment, it wouldn't even require a death.
Don't forget Fast and Furious. If there starts to be investigative work, Holder is doing down, and not necessarily (probably) by himself.
Think of the people in DoJ who regard Bubba and his administration fondly. And how there might just be a shift and movement towards some investigation and inquiry, and maybe some records released, and emails traced and...
Hillary is insulated from F&F, being the SecState, wouldn't have been briefed, and would have had no connection to it, unlike Biden/Obama.
I can see it quite possible that Obama wouldn't be happy with Clinton in the 2nd in command, should DoJ suddenly wake up and start investigating certain crimes with zeal.
Here's another wrinkle: I dismissed it as unlikely, but recent Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mickey Kaus — the only Democratic politician to whom I've contributed in many years — is convinced that if Obama does lose in 2012, he would absolutely go all Grover Cleveland on us in 2016. So would that mean a reprise in 2016 of the 2008 Obama versus Hillary primary fights? Might Hillary insist on a promise by Obama not to run in 2016 if they lose in 2012, as a condition for going onto the 2012 ticket in Biden's place?
(13) Jim,MtnViewCA,USA made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 2:40:41 PM | Permalink
off topic, and belatedly: It's been great to see you actively back in the blogosphere.
(14) gunnar myrdal made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 2:46:40 PM | Permalink
Hillary is a tightly-wound Biden. Look at her tenure at State, look at her tenure as Bill's wife. She is only Biden in a pants suit and better hair.
Obie is like a chess player who has been placed in Zugszwang: any move he makes will place him in a worse position.
Considering everything related to Obama's foreign policy results--like say, yesterday's report of a Russian attack sub skulking around in the Gulf of Mexico; Fast and Furious; the "Arab Spring' quickly devolving into the 'Islamist Winter,' and a number of other debacles, I don't think putting Hillary on the ticket and calling attention to the Obama/Hillary "Smart diplomacy" record would actually offer them anything that Romney & Co. could not tear apart as easily as the administration's domestic record.
(16) Chester White made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 3:37:08 PM | Permalink
"LBJ realized, however, that his chances of getting to the White House were better as Jack Kennedy's Veep than if he'd be running against an incumbent Nixon in 1964."
LBJ might also have had knowledge about what the future held for JFK.
(17) David Walser made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 3:42:37 PM | Permalink
While I am not one of those who claims that Barak Obama is the smartest man to ever run for President, I do believe that he is smart enough to not put himself into a position where the Clintons would benefit from his death.
...Might Hillary insist on a promise by Obama not to run in 2016 if they lose in 2012, as a condition for going onto the 2012 ticket in Biden's place?
Sure, Hillary might insist on such a promise, but there's no reason for her to believe that Obama might keep such a promise. The man obviously believes it's fair to "rethink" any commitment based on the now current circumstances. Hillary would be a fool to rely on any assurance from Obama and few think she's a fool.
(18) stan made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 3:48:09 PM | Permalink
1) I'm not convinced that Hillary would be a plus. She and Bill were the most corrupt couple in WH history. The news media, pre-blogosphere, was able to stonewall an extraordinary amount of the scandalous stuff. Otherwise, the silly meme that Clinton's only sin was lying about sex would never have been floated.
If she is ever on a national ticket, all that stuff will get prominent circulation in ways it never did the first time around. Pardons for pay, opening CIA files to the Chinese every week or so for years in exchange for cash, the massive illegal contributions from shady foreigners, the abuse of power, enemies lists, obstruction of justice in so many cases, and dozens more .... the voters will lose their lunches.
2) I think that Biden should henceforth be "Clueless Joe -- when he says it, you know it ain't so."
(19) Rlynh made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 4:20:54 PM | Permalink
I disagree that Hillary would accept the VP nomination. This is not 1960, and JFK wasn't facing a possible second run of the Great Depression. The Clintons (you can't have just one) are canny politicians who know the history. Hillary has a better crack at the presidency in 2016 if she hasn't been stained by the disastrous policies of Obama, as his vice president. Not that I'd vote for her, or any Democrat at this point, until they clean house.
The electors can vote for whoever they please. They are selected from obedient party hacks, and will do what they are told.
It is interesting to look at the 1960 election where Nixon got more of the popular votes, and Kennedy got the electoral votes.
All of Alabama and much of Mississipi voted for Democrat uncommitted delegates, who voted for someone besides Kennedy. As I recall, off the top of my head, Goldwater got some of the votes from these uncommitted delegates.
(21) MSDNC made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 7:04:20 PM | Permalink
The switch won't happen unless Obama believes he needs Hillary to win and Hillary also believes it would benefit her to accept. And while I could forsee a set of circumstances where it would be in both parties best interest, I do not forsee a set of circumstances where Obama realizes it.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Obama has a massively inflated sense of self-worth, such that if he really thought he needed Hillary he would have to be deeper in the hole than Dole in 1996 and Hillary would be a fool to accept the offer under those circumstances. If circumstances were such that she would benefit him, he would be convinced he had it in the bag and never make the offer.
(22) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 15, 2012 11:47:29 PM | Permalink
Dear Mr. Dyer: What a good thread! Jumping in:
1. For Don M and Micha: you are quite wrong in thinking that presidential electors can use their judgment and vote for whom they please. In my state, Washington, there's a provision that sez electors will vote for their party's candidates or face being tossed in the klink. Other states likely have different requirements, but many states have taken action against such "faithless electors." Washington State enacted this law after 1968 when one of the state's electors went against the state popular vote.
(This also doesn't count the mischievous attempt to circumvent the electoral college by having the electors vote for the national popular vote winner, the hell with what the voters of Washington decided. I was dismayed to find that my state had enacted this bit of foolishness.)
2. Historical example: in 1912, Taft's running mate, and sitting Veep, James Schoolcraft Sherman, died five weeks before the balloting. The GOP national committee asked Nicholas Murray Butler, Columbia University's prez, if he would take Sherman's place. He agreed, and received the 8 electoral votes that Taft earned on Election Day.
This is a skimpy example. No one cared about what happened because Taft was so badly beaten. But it is the only example I can think of where a candidate for Veep was dropped after the nominating convention and replaced later on.
3. I think, My Dyer, you are following Caro too closely in using him to argue that LBJ foresaw that he'd have a better shot at running for Prez as Kennedy's Veep than as a Senator against Nixon in 1964. He may have thought that---but he couldn't have foreseen the liklihood that he was going to be dropped from the ticket in 1964. Caro makes a persuasive case that this was going to happen thanks to the Bobby Baker scandal. Indeed, a Senate investigating committee was beginning to question Don Reynolds, the "bag man" in that scandal on the day Kennedy was shot, and LIFE magazine was about to run a long article on the Baker scandal. But Kennedy's death changed everything. So I would be hesitant about using LBJ in 1960 to argue either side of this case.
4. Mr. Dyer, I'm greatly obliged to you for bringing up Torricelli. I had forgotten that blatant bit of judicial corruption, far more damning to the judiciary even than the Florida gang's attempted throwing for Good Al in 2000.
5. I still think inertia will win and Joe will be on the ticket come Election Day. I admit, if I see Michelle force feeding Joe cheeseburgers, fries, and ice cream before then, in an attempt to poison Joe, I'll have to try to hedge this bet...
(23) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 1:21:15 AM | Permalink
Rats, don't know what happened to the link in my previous post. Try this one instead.
[Editing note: Previous link fixed, thanks for checking your work carefully, Mr. Koster. — Beldar]
"It will come down to one two-part question: Does Barack Obama think he'll have a better chance to win this election by replacing Biden with someone else — and if so, with whom? And as with JFK's pick of LBJ in 1960, it's exactly that simple."
Three part: Does Hillary think it's in her best interest to join with Obama.
"Hillary will see the Veep role as something from which she can springboard much more effectively than bumbling, sigh-heaving Al Gore did in 2000. And the very fact that she's a Democratic Party star in her own right means that Obama's failures aren't likely to be attributed to her; or in any event, Obama's failures would cost her no more in the next four years as his Veep than they've cost her in the last four years as his SecState (which is, basically, not at all)."
1: Are we agreed that, if Hillary is brought in as VP, and they lose anyway, she's done? Or do you think she could recover from that?
2: Assume they win. The only sitting VP to win election as Pres in the last 100+ years is Bush 41. You need to follow a Reagan to win (even a Clinton isn't good enough), and Obama's no Reagan. Hell, he's no Clinton. Four years from now, if Obama is re-elected, the economy will still suck, our foreign position will be weak, ObamaCare will have kicked in, and the death panels will be pissing people off. It will be a lousy time to be Obama's VP.
While Democrat Party voters might not blame all this on her, general election voters most certainly will. She'd win the Democrat Party nomination, but unless the next four years are significantly better than the last four year, the only thing "historic" about her election will be the size of her defeat.
Unless she's planning on being the sitting President, and having some time to establish her own persona in the job, she'd be nuts to take it. IMHO.
So I agree with the others: 1, I don't think Obama is grounded enough in the real world to accept that he might lose, and getting him grounded enough would require a deep enough hole that Hillary would be insane to join,
2: I don't think Obama is going to trust Hillary enough to want her as his #2
(25) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 6:46:20 PM | Permalink
In my state, Washington, there's a provision that sez electors will vote for their party's candidates or face being tossed in the klink. Other states likely have different requirements, but many states have taken action against such "faithless electors."
Such laws are blatantly unconstitutional and unenforceable. But they're also irrelevant to this discussion, because in this scenario the electors would not be faithless. They would be voting for the nominees of their party, exactly as they promised, and as the voters elected them to do.
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