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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Big and little reasons: Why Hillary would say "yes"

My commenters here, and many pundits elsewhere on the web, argue very persuasively that Hillary Clinton would turn down an offer from Barack Obama to replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket for 2012. They advance many small but cumulatively weighty reasons why Hillary would say "no" if Obama asked. Here, for example, is respected political analyst John Fund's take at National Review Online:

I’ve no doubt that some Democratic strategists would love for Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to swap jobs and bolster the Democratic ticket with a little Clinton magic. But there’s no evidence that Hillary would take that deal. If she wants to run, she is already the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination and would gain no advantage by being yoked to Obama, her old adversary, for the next three months if they lost or the next four years if they won.

So Democrats are stuck with Old Joe, who will turn 70 this November. It’s said that few people vote for a presidential ticket based on who is filling the No. 2 slot. But some do, and they may matter in a very close race....

I confess not to being able to follow Mr. Fund's logic in that last paragraph. Don't the last two sentences directly support the notion that Obama should replace Biden? If you're looking to get to the polls those people, few or otherwise, who might be excited about a vice presidential nominee, do you want Hillary or do you want Slow Joe? Just about the only unanimous opinion about Sarah Palin's impact on the 2008 election was that she energized and turned out a lot of the GOP base who were unenthused about John McCain. There's no reason to think that Hillary Clinton would do less well among the Democratic base, and some reason to think that she might do quite a bit better in attracting independent voters.

And does anyone think George H.W. Bush didn't gain a net advantage over Dukakis in 1988 by being the sitting Veep? Dukakis' attempts to tar Bush-41 with Iran-Contra and other Reagan controversies didn't work well enough to make a difference, and Poppy successfully campaigned as Reagan's natural heir and annointed designee. However well it works out in any given election cycle, having to campaign as a sitting Veep is hardly the political kiss of death.

But put that aside, and let's get back to how Hillary Clinton would necessarily have to evaluate an offer from Obama that she replace Biden.


I humbly submit to you that there is one big reason why she would say "yes," and that it alone outweighs all the other little reasons why she might say "yes" or she might say "no":

If she says yes and they win, she will be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

The number of former First Ladies who have become President is zero, of course. The number of former U.S. Senators who've become President is considerably higher, and so is the number of former Secretaries of State. The number of people who've already placed a reasonably close second in a long-running party presidential primary is pretty small. But any of those examples might give Hillary statistical hope for her chances in 2016, whatever happens in 2012, right?

Obama's worst nightmare: MathYet look at the percentages. It's true that sixteen U.S. Senators have gone on to become POTUS, but that's out of well over 2100 total U.S. Senators (less than 0.8%). Six former SecStates have become POTUS, but that's only nine percent of our sixty-seven total Secretaries of State. I don't have stats handy for how many primary runner-ups have later gone on to become POTUS, and of course primaries are relatively new. But if taken separately, the percentages of former SecStates and Senators and presidential primary runner-ups who've gone on to become President are all small; and taken collectively, they surely amount to only some tiny fraction of 1%.

By very sharp contrast, nine Vice Presidents have succeeded to the presidency due to the death or resignation of the POTUS (Tyler, Filmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford). And no one but a Vice President (i.e., no then-current House Speaker nor Senate President Pro Tem nor SecState, etc.) has ever succeeded to the presidency due to the POTUS' death or resignation.

Five more Vice Presidents (Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Nixon, and G.W.H. Bush) were elected POTUS in their own rights. Another (Gore) failed by no more than a whisker just 12 years ago, and at least one failed Veep nominee (FDR) also later became POTUS (and there may have been others). But even discounting the near-misses and valuable set-ups, there's one stat which simply cannot be ignored:

Through succession or election, fourteen out of our forty-four Presidents — almost a third — have previously been Vice President. I think Hillary is smart enough to follow that math.

I also think she's smart enough to prioritize. Do she and Obama like or trust one another? Who cares? That's way, way down the list of factors either one would consider in answering the question of whether they can stay/become POTUS. Who gets to sit in the big chair in the Oval Office is controlled solely by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, which governs both the electoral college and the order of presidential succession. If your goal is the top, everything else is a subsidiary issue.

President Obama is himself young, and but for his cigarette habit (about which we haven't heard much lately), he seems to be healthy and athletic. There's no reason to think he's likely to become disabled or to die in office from any medical cause. He is as well protected as the Secret Service can make him, and we all share in hoping that he remains safe and healthy. But there are no guarantees against disease, nor other causes of death or disability. There's no guarantee against a successful presidential impeachment, for that matter, nor against circumstances that could prompt a President's resignation. As a matter of structural constitutional opportunity and long national history, there's no shorter pathway to the presidency than through the vice presidency — nor any that's more likely, nor any path at all that is so unambiguously prescribed. That the vice presidency under Obama would guarantee her preeminence as the Dem favorite for 2016, and keep her continuously in the public eye until then, would simply be gravy.

If asked to replace Biden, Hillary would have to ask herself the same question that an aging Lyndon Johnson asked himself when JFK offered him the Democratic Veep nomination in 1960: What maximizes my chances of becoming POTUS? And as LBJ recognized in 1960, any way you slice it, becoming your party's nominee for Vice President is the best way to maximize your odds.


And finally, this:

Suppose you're Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama comes to you and says he's decided to replace Joe Biden on the ticket. He offers you the spot, but you believe that if you decline, he will pick someone else — a second choice, but still someone whom he reasonably believes will help him counter the change the Ryan selection has made in the race. He mentions a couple of names; assume, for purposes of this hypothetical, that you agree with his assessment of the likelihood they'll help him more than Biden.

What does that do to your 2016 plans and dreams?


UPDATE (Thu Aug 16 @ 6:45pm): White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today gave an unequivocal "yes" when asked directly if Obama-Biden[?] "is the ticket." Carney added that "that was settled a long, long time ago." And I'm sure that's all technically correct. It will be until the moment that Obama dumps him, which is every bit as possible now as it was before Jay Carney said it wasn't. Democrats live in an alternate universe anyone, one in which Bill Clinton never had sex with that woman and Tony Weiner never sent those penis self-portraits to young women — until they confessed that yes, they actually had. (Also, you will always be able to keep the health care you had in 2008; the stimulus was full of shovel-ready jobs; unemployment is now 5.6%; we weren't in combat in Libya when our ships and aircraft were blowing stuff up; we tried Obama's plan and it worked; and Obama completely turned around the economy in his first three years in office. That alternate universe. Oh, and we've always been at war with Eastasia.)

Obama can always say, "Mr. Carney was speaking before we realized that the country needs Joe more to be heading up the peace-and-relief mission to ________ [fill-in-the-blank] than I need him to be with me on the campaign trail. We're lucky he's so committed to the good of the country."

As a supplement to Geraghty's Rule — "All statements from Barack Obama come with an expiration date. All of them." — I offer the Beldar Corollary: "Only a sucker would base any bet on the proposition that Barack Obama is capable of being shamed by anything."


UPDATE (Thu Aug 16 @ 8:15pm):  Since we're not talking about replacing Vice Presidents as such, but about replacing candidates for Vice President, another fairly recent precedent, at least for those of my generation or older, is George McGovern's abandonment of Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), the Veep nominee McGovern had picked, and the Democratic National Convention delegates had accepted, on July 13, 1972. Eagleton had not disclosed several hospitalizations for physical and nervous exhaustion, his electroshock therapy treatments, or his diagnosed depression. (Would anyone today think any of that more disqualifying than Biden's idiocies? I wouldn't.) When the news broke 18 days after the nomination, McGovern at first insisted that he was "one thousand percent for Tom Eagleton" and that he had "no intention of dropping him from the ticket" — which sounds almost exactly like what Jay Carney said about Biden today, doesn't it?

But McGovern soon decided that not replacing Eagleton would hurt worse than replacing him, so McGovern turned instead to Kennedy-family in-law Sargent Shriver, who joined the ticket in plenty of time to prepare for their eventual 49-state blowout loss. Certainly choosing Eagleton, then dumping him, made McGovern look bad. No one has suggested it had more than a tiny and marginal effect on the outcome of the election, however, and we'll never know whether McGovern would have fared better or worse with Eagleton than he did with Shriver.

Posted by Beldar at 12:28 PM in 2012 Election, Obama, Palin, Politics (2012) | Permalink


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(1) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 1:13:25 PM | Permalink

I was a liberal arts major, and freely admit to being math-challenged myself. I cope, but I struggle. My own math for this post is all of the "back of the envelope" variety, and my historical research has been quick and dirty, relying on secondary sources of unknown quality found through googling. As always, but especially on this occasion, I will gratefully and promptly accept and acknowledge any corrections.

I probably ought to have said "out of our forty-three Presidents," meaning I ought not have counted Cleveland's non-contiguous presidencies separately for this purpose. But I don't want to argue with those who have "Barack is #44!" fixed in their heads, so I'll just give you bonus points here if you thought to correct and/or scold me when you read that figure above. Arguably I ought also to have excluded Washington from that number, since the presidency he filled was incapable of being filled by a former vice president. Either change only enhances my point, however, by slightly raising the percentage of presidents who've previously been vice president. If it's 14 out of 42, that is fully one-third.

Also, those who joke that Obama's too careful of his own safety to ever put a Clinton in the line of presidential succession have perhaps forgotten that as SecState she's already fourth in line, behind only Biden, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate President Pro Tempore Dan Inouye (D-HI).

Finally for now: Isn't it funny that every life or health insurance company asks every single applicant when he or she last had a puff off of a cigarette, or otherwise used any tobacco product; but not a single White House reporter can manage to ask that question about Pres. Obama, neither to him nor to his spokepeople? The White House wants to make very sure that we know who's on Obama's latest delegation to the Dominican Republic. But is he still smoking, and if so, how often and how much? Cue the crickets.

(2) Greg Q made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 2:40:57 PM | Permalink

Hi Beldar,

By very sharp contrast, nine Vice Presidents have succeeded to the presidency due to the death or resignation of the POTUS (Tyler, Filmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford).

Five more Vice Presidents (Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Nixon, and G.W.H. Bush) were elected POTUS in their own rights.

First the "elected":

Adams: Washington's VP. Was pretty much guaranteed the Job.

Jefferson: Was VP because came in second in the 1796 election. Law changed so that wouldn't happen again, because the rise of the political parties changed things. Beat Adams the second time around, when he didn't have Washington's coat-tails to run on.

Van Buren: Won in 1836. Lost in 1840

Nixon: Lost running as sitting VP. Won running 8 years later, after serious social upheaval caused by the left. Unless Hillary is also planning on running in 2024, doesn't provide a positive role model for her.

Bush: Won as sitting VP in 1988, lost in 1992.

In short, getting elected President while running as VP is pretty much a "black swan" event. Three Presidents have had their chosen successor / VP elected as President: Washington, Jackson (who co-founded the Democrat Party in its current form, with Van Buren), and Reagan. All three VPs lost their Presidential re-election bids four years later.

Barack Obama is no Washington, Reagan, or Jackson. If his VP wants to become President, (s)he'd better hope for death, resignation, or impeachment.

And Barack Obama is not going to resign, or be removed via impeachment. Nixon got the boot because Republicans have a sense of shame. Democrats have none, which is why Clinton remained in office (and why Gore lost in 2000. If Democrat Senators had told Clinton they would vote to convict, and Clinton had resigned, think Gore would have won in 2000? I do). Look at Bill Cointon, and understand that Obama will expect the same to happen for him, so long as he doesn't give in. So either Barack Obama dies in office, or his VP won't become President.

AS for "I want you, but I'll take X", who the hell is going to be X? The Democrats have no bench. Who are they going to bring in who could even remotely compete with Paul Ryan?

Biden's already there. Obama can hope people will ignore him. Any replacement is going to be subject to a lot of questions, and a lot of comparison w/ Ryan.

Now, you are right that Hillary is in serious trouble if Obama replaces Biden with someone other than her, AND Obama wins re-election. Which is why I'm kind of hoping he does replace Biden with someone not Hillary. Because at that point the Clintons are going to want Romney to beat Obama.

I love your blog, and I'm really glad you're back. But I just don't see this switch happening.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 3:21:57 PM | Permalink

I hope you're right, Mr. Koster. Maybe there are reasons to discount that one-third fraction. But given that the supposed job qualification for being Vice President is that you're ready to step into the presidency in a heartbeat, it's actually surprising that only one third of our Presidents have previously been a Veep: You'd think it would be higher, and I think history actually has lagged logic in this respect.

As for "Who's X?": In addition to Cuomo, who's already being speculated about, I'd propose former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). That would be a Clintonesque triangulating move, though, and I'll admit that Obama hasn't shown any inclination to triangulate. But the question isn't whether the Dems have anyone as good as Ryan on their bench, it's whether they have anyone better than Biden — and that is a whole bunch of people. I do think we can be confident that Obama wouldn't turn to the second runner-up from the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, though.

It's interesting that there's one argument I haven't yet heard anyone make for why Obama won't replace Biden, viz: "Biden wouldn't be a bad President if something happened to Obama."

This is all an argument over whether he's so bad that Obama should dump him.

(4) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 4:05:52 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: No no, I'M Mr. Koster. He's Greg Q, and doing well at it.

I think GQ's "black swan" argument disposes of the case for Hillary taking the Veepacy. You can't make any sort of plan for the Prez kicking off. Nor does The Won seem to have any health problems as did Woodrow Wilson or FDR after 1943. As I pointed out in the previous thread, getting rid of Joe assumes he wants to go, and will smile while doing so. I don't think either of those assumptions are true, and getting rid of Joe in a cruel, bloody way, will leave the Veepacy a poisoned chalice in the manner of Tom Eagleton and George McGovern in 1972. Remember how McGovern had to run around in an increasing panic, begging someone, anyone to take the dam spot, until he finally conned Sargeant Shriver to take on the task.

Let's look at from Hillary's point of view. Why should she take the Veepacy in 2012:

1. Joe has to be sweet talked out of the job, and that means providing him with a future. That's a tall order.

2. The Won is in good health, and does not appear likely to kick the bucket before 2016. Even if he does, the timing is important. If he kicks off before 20 January 15, that bars Hillary from a second term, thanks to Amendment 22.

3. Presidential second terms are notoriously weaker than first terms. This means that candidate Clinton will have an awful record to defend when she runs in 2016. Of all the Veeps who were elected in succession to two term Prezs, how many went on to a second term in their own right? Only Jefferson. How many folks think Bush 41 was a great Prez? How many people think LBJ would have been reelected in 1968 or Truman in 1952 if they had pressed for the job? How many think LBJ is a great Prez? Truman looks better today, but when he left office, he was as unpopular as Herb Hoover.

4. Why would Billyboy want to campaign for the sake of his wife for The Won? The Won a) played the race card on him successfully and b) took away Billyboy's moronic pleasure in being "the first black prez."

Nope, we will have a Won-Slow ticket this fall. Yet you've provided us with such a good show that I offer my own candidate to The Won to replace Slow:

Billyboy himself.

Amendment 22 does not foreclose Billyboy from running as Veep. It doesn't even foreclose him succeeding to be Prez if The Won kicks off (amendment 22 only mentions "elections" not "successions".)

Why would Billyboy do it? It puts him back in the spotlight, utterly immune from retribution. He can campaign, and show his superiority to The Won every day, sweet revenge for the 2008 debacle. The experience issue is removed iummediately, and watching a Ryan-Clinton debate would be the gaudiest of shows. Too, should Billyboy succeed, The Won's second term would be a misery of vast proportions. That awful battleaxe Michelle would scream at him every night. He'd never be able to eat a decent meal, but would always be looking at his food tasters in anxiety. Every time something went wrong, Billyboy would cluck and loyally defend The Won, even while insinuating that he would never have been caught with his pants down that way----maybe we better use a different metaphor here.

What could go wrong? What a show!

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

PS--As for The Won coming back after losing in 2016 in the manner of Grover, remember, Grover won the popular vote in 1888, but was counted out in the Electoral College. He and Andrew Jackson are the only candidates in history to increase his popular vote in three successive elections. Not even FDR could do that. The Won is not going to increase his popular vote this fall.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 4:39:08 PM | Permalink

Yikes, apologies to you both! But yes, you're both more than holding your own.

(6) Greg Q made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 5:06:41 PM | Permalink

"But given that the supposed job qualification for being Vice President is that you're ready to step into the presidency in a heartbeat, it's actually surprising that only one third of our Presidents have previously been a Veep: You'd think it would be higher, and I think history actually has lagged logic in this respect."

To an extent, I agree. I think the issue is that after eight years, the country's tired of the President and his Party, and the President and his Party are just plain tired. If you've been governing for eight years, you've spent eight years focusing on dealing with this issue or that issue, that's happening right now. You don't have time to sit back and think about new issues, new approaches, new solutions. So what you have to offer is the same-old, same-old. That might be enough (see Reagan Bush in 1988), but history says it really isn't: Of the 4 VPs elected President while holding the office of VP, the only one to win a second term was Jefferson. But Jefferson was his President's chief competitor, so I'm guessing he had a lot of time to think about better ways to do things, since I'm guessing Adams gave him very little to do.

Nixon won two terms, but he had 8 years in between being VP, and winning the race for President, so he also had time to think, and like Jefferson, he was elected following a Presidency of the opposition Party.

Now, I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure Hillary is just about as left-wing as Obama. So if she took the VP spot and they won, she'd be running for President as "four more years of Obama". Will she, Jefferson-like, have plenty of ideas about "what to do next"? Oh, hell yes.

Will the American people see much difference between those ideas, and what they've had for the last 8 years? I don't think so.

Will Hillary be able to convince herself that the American people will see that difference, and want to elect her to follow Obama?

I don't know. So I suppose I could be wrong, and Hillary could end up saying yes. But I think she will ask herself "is Barack Obama the equal of Washington, Jackson, or Reagan?" And I think both the Clinton's will say "hell no!" to that.

Were I a Clinton Partisan, I think that, right now, I'd be hoping for an Obama loss, but not a Romney landslide w/ lots of coat-tails. Then I'm hoping for Romney to fail.

Because that, or becoming Obama's VP and having him die in office, are pretty much the only way she's going to become President.

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 16, 2012 6:07:20 PM | Permalink

I've been thinking more about Greg Q's "Candidate X" question (in comment #2 above).

One of the reasons I think it would make sense to replace Biden with Hillary is that she is at least perceived to be more of a left-centrist, and she ran to Obama's right during the 2008 primaries on most issues on which they differed. Thus picking Hillary would be a tack toward the center, which I think would be wise, even though contrary to Obama's own instincts. That's also why I mentioned Evan Bayh earlier: He'd bring both ideological and geographic balance to a Dem ticket.

But what if Obama wanted to rally the hard-left base and get maximum effect in a swing state? What if he wanted to confront the Ryan choice as vividly as possible? I'm thinking Russ Feingold would probably take a phone call from the White House, and although he lost his last statewide election to Ron Johnson, he nevertheless might nudge Wisconsin either back into or further into Obama's column.

What if Obama decided to throw a "Hail, Mary" of his own and picked CIA director David Petraeus? Petraeus may be a Republican, we're not quite sure; but if so, then so much the better, assuming he could be talked into saying "Yes." How many ambitious and self-confident public figures would say "No"? Petraeus is at least willing to serve in Obama's cabinet, so why wouldn't he be willing to be Obama's Veep?

Or if squishy Republicans are being looked at, how about George Voinovich, former Senator from Ohio? How about Obama's former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman? And Maine's Olympia Snowe has crossed over to vote with the Dems quite a few times in her career. She announced last February that she would not seek reelection to the Senate because of what she called "gridlock" and "the partisanship of recent years." So was that exit speech a wink at Obama?

Finally, Obama could replace Biden with someone who resembles him physically and even exceeds Biden's appeal to fellow kooks and hard leftists: California Gov. Jerry Brown!

There are endless possibilities. And all Obama would have to do to ratchet up the pressure on Hillary to say "yes" would be to mention a few of the more plausible names.

(8) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 11:59:38 AM | Permalink

Amendment 22 does not foreclose Billyboy from running as Veep.

The 12th does. "No person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States." Unless you really want to argue that he's not ineligible to the office, he's only ineligible to be elected to the office. A fine point, and if the 22nd had been crafted by the same deft wordsmiths who wrote the original constitution and the early amendments I'd agree with it, but looking at the 22nd and its excessive wordiness I wouldn't put that much reliance on its precision.

(9) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 12:05:21 PM | Permalink

But Jefferson was his President's chief competitor, so I'm guessing he had a lot of time to think about better ways to do things, since I'm guessing Adams gave him very little to do.

It wouldn't be up to Adams to give him anything to do. The vice president doesn't work for the president. Since the 12th amendment, when presidents and vice presidents started being elected as a team, it's become traditional for the president to farm out some trivial tasks to his "team mate", and for the bored VP to accept them, but that would surely not have happened between Adams and Jefferson. Jefferson would have been working full time on his 1800 campaign (discreetly, of course, since it was considered unseemly for anyone to campaign for the presidency), and would surely have refused any task Adams asked him to perform.

(10) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 12:07:33 PM | Permalink

I'm pretty sure Hillary is just about as left-wing as Obama.

Her history says so, but her reputation is linked to that of her husband, who is considerably to her and 0bama's right. So she has the appearance of reasonableness, even if not the substance.

(11) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 17, 2012 12:10:10 PM | Permalink

Cynthia McKinney!

(12) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 18, 2012 9:57:26 AM | Permalink

Dear Milhouse: Shucks, another beautiful dream gone glimmering....

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