Putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket for vice president creates a ménage-à-trois. Bill will be the unexpected roommate. Even if a President Obama can discipline Hillary and get her to play second fiddle, there is not the remotest chance that he can get the former president to accept such rules. Even if Bill Clinton wanted to rein in his newly prolific public expressions of rage and frustration, there is doubt that he is any longer capable of doing so.
Hillary, who likely desperately wants to be tapped for vice president, is going about it in exactly the wrong way. She seems to be demanding a kind of coalition government between herself and Obama, a definition of the vice presidency not likely to appeal to the president. It reminds me of 1980 when there were discussions of a ticket with Reagan as the presidential nominee and former President Gerald Ford as the vice president in a coalition government where the VP would have extraordinary powers.
Intended to reassure voters who were panicked by Reagan’s “extreme” conservatism, the arrangement never came to fruition, a development which gave us the House of Bush.
Instead of conceding defeat and campaigning for Obama, auditioning for the spot of loyal teammate, Hillary insists on keeping her options open and vies for the spotlight with Obama, exactly what you do not want a vice president to do.
Last night, when Obama went over the top in delegates and could claim the nomination as his, Hillary organized a rally of all of her supporters, directly competing for airtime with the newly minted nominee.
Adding Hillary to the ticket would not bring Obama a single vote (except possibly for Bill’s). Her supporters are divided into two distinct categories. The original Clintonistas were strong Democrats, party faithful, pro-choice, middle-aged and up, largely female and all white. But Hillary’s recent backers have been downscale whites of both genders who were turned off by Obama’s pastor, wife and other associates and were afraid he might be a Muslim in disguise. Unhappy about voting for a woman, they never really liked Hillary but turned to her when the alternative was Obama.
If Hillary had won the Democratic nomination, these latent backers of Hillary in the primaries might still have voted for McCain in the general. Their support of Hillary is purely linked to her opposition to Obama. Were she to join the ticket, they would vote for McCain anyway. After all, Obama will still be black and the Rev. Wright will still be nuts.
But adding Hillary to the ticket brings, along with her, Bill.
The public Bill Clinton has morphed over the past few months from a statesman and philanthropist to a petulant, angry, cursing, spoiled narcissist, accusing everyone of being sleazy and biased and in so doing fashioning himself as a foil for Obama. This unattractive image is not the right one for the bottom of a ticket in a presidential race. And make no mistake, Bill comes along with Hillary.
But the more serious problem is the public record that Todd Purdum, an excellent journalist, laid out in his Vanity Fair piece. Bill’s relationships with billionaires, his pursuit of financial gain, his alliance with the emir of Dubai, and his acceptance of speaking fees and income from some of the least savory of types is not what you need to carry around with you in a presidential race. To put Hillary on the ticket is to confront nagging questions about donors to the Clinton Library and Bill’s refusal to release them. It would be to inherit a load of baggage that Obama does not need as he tries to position himself as the candidate of change, antithetical to the corrupt and corrupting ways of Washington.
On her own, Hillary would be no bargain as vice president. She would never accept direction and never sublimate her ambition or agenda to Obama’s. But with Bill in tow, her candidacy becomes even more fraught with peril should Obama be inclined to bow to pressure and put her on the ticket.