May 7, 2004
Hillary's path to the White HouseBy Thomas Lifson
Hillary Clinton is ambitious, audacious, and fully capable of creating devious, multi—step strategies. Blindsiding her fervent opponents, she may yet shock the world and realize her longstanding ambition to win election as President —— in the year 2004. Doing so would only require her to use tactics which she and her husband have already perfected.
Small signs already indicate she and her husband are laying the foundations for a fascinating gambit which could land her in the Oval Office next year.
Step one requires her to obtain the nomination as Vice President on a John Kerry ticket. No less an authority than Dick Morris has already proclaimed his belief that the late June timing of publication of Bill Clinton's memoirs is designed to demonstrate to Kerry that the Clintons are fully capable of — in the currently popular metaphor — sucking the oxygen out of his campaign, if they choose to use their hold on the media, the Democrats' base, and the charisma chasm which separates Bill Clinton from John Kerry.
The Clintons long ago demonstrated a remarkable ability to quietly persuade other politicians to bend to their will. Remember that when Hillary decided to enter the race for one of New York's Senate seats, she leapfrogged ahead of other New York Democrats, who graciously stepped—aside. Such self—sacrificing, polite—to—the—point—of—abnegation behavior has never previously been cited as a notable characteristic of New Yorkers.
Hillary is enough of a realist, and the wounds of the defeat of her health care plan are still fresh enough, that she recognizes her opponents are numerous, determined, and capable of playing hardball with her. Ruefully, she also recognizes that she is a lightning rod, and that her record contains enough conductive material standing high enough off the ground to allow her opponents to seriously damage her in a Presidential campaign. She also probably recognizes that her own talents as a campaigner are limited enough that a long, drawn—out Presidential race might not come out the way she wishes.
Running as Vice President, Hillary would still attract attacks from her enemies, but she would be fully capable of mobilizing her formidable talents as an attack dog, while also playing the victim card, as a poor female target of sexists who do not want to see a woman get ahead in politics. How much damage could she do as presiding officer of the Senate, anyway?
More importantly, enemy fire would be concentrated at the top of the ticket. Senator John Kerry, whatever his talents in winning the favor of wealthy women, appears to lack the ability to connect with a large segment of the electorate. Haughty, aristocratic, liberal, and sporting an Irish—sounding name, Kerry never had to face the kind of flak in Massachusetts which a Presidential run entails. To date, his abilities to handle the pressures of a Presidential race have dismayed his allies and delighted his enemies. Whispers about the need to replace him as a candidate are already being heard beyond the confines of the Democrats' inner circle.
Hillary is extremely unlikely to want to displace Kerry as the choice of the Democrats' convention in Boston, his home town. Not only would such a move trigger criticism of her pathological ambition, it would also place her personal lightning rod at the top of the tallest tree on the political golf course. So, if she follows the strategy being outlined here, look for her to graciously accept a 'draft Hillary' movement for the Vice Presidential nomination of the Democrats.
Astute poll watchers have noted that Hillary is no lock for re—election to the Senate in 2006, if Rudy Giuliani (a man with his own Presidential ambitions) should run against her. There would be an element of self—protection at work in seeking the nomination as Vice President, as well, since a defeat in the 2006 Senate race would effectively end her chance at attaining the Presidency.
Step two in the plan would be to conscientiously run as a model Vice Presidential candidate —— in public. Her behavior in the Senate conclusively demonstrates that when it serves her career interests, Hillary can put her head down and do the humble hard work necessary to win the favor of others. She would ceaselessly campaign for the ticket, taking the secondary locales, visiting the county seats, junior high school gyms, and factory gates. Once you have courted upstate New York and won approval, despite Illinois and Arkansas roots, you can handle the duties of a candidate for veep.
Taking the attack role traditionally assigned to the second spot on the ticket comes naturally to her. The humble nature of her supporting role, in the secondary status on the ticket, would be a definite plus, in deflecting the awkward image of a power—mad pol.
She would always declare her loyalty to the top of the ticket. Hillary definitely knows how to stand by her man. In public.
But by October, many things can happen. Kerry may well be unable to master the persona of a man of the people. So far, he has given no sign of being able to do so. The Democrats' core aches in its bones to defeat Bush. The difficulties in Iraq give them all the more reason to believe that it is time for a Democrat to occupy the Oval Office once more. If the perception continues that Kerry is so unappealing that he cannot win against Bush, no matter how bad the news from Iraq, he may well face considerable anger from the ranks—and—file, as well as the insider pros.
Here is where step three would kick—in. I cannot tell you how the actual conversation would go, but ex—Senator Robert Toricelli could probably remember a similar meeting vividly. Probably, it would involve what Lyndon Johnson used to call 'reasoning together.' A scenario outlining the consequences of blowing this golden opportunity for a Democrat comeback would be painted, and it would not be a pretty one. We already know that FBI files exist on the subject of John F. Kerry, but we do not know all of their contents. Bill and Hillary Clinton, the former recipients of over 800 FBI files containing 'raw data,' might very well know things which could be rather damaging to a defeated Presidential candidate, once he is back in the Senate, with a life still to live.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Senator Kerry's 'quality of life' now depends on the continued goodwill of his second wife. The speedboat, the private jet, the $250 bespoke shirts, the $8000 bicycle, and most of all the effortless mastery of material desire are intoxicating, I am sure. When he was between wealthy wives, he found life on a mere Senator's salary uncomfortable. As Susan Estrich delicately put his circumstances at the time, 'He didn't have a bed to sleep in.'
The Teresa factor might well make Senator Kerry uniquely vulnerable to 'persuasion' and 'reason' coming from uniquely well—informed sources. If his ambitions for the White House appear to be coming to naught, he may well decide that the silver medal of continued wealth is preferable to losing, if losing means losing his zillionaire lifestyle, too.
But a candidate for President does not simply step down a few weeks before the election. Tongues would certainly wag. However, Senator Kerry has a perfectly good potential reason for withdrawal. He is, let us not forget, a cancer survivor. A cancer survivor who has not made public his medical records.
If Senator Kerry were to suddenly announce that 'on advice of his physicians' he is stepping down, to 'save his life' because the 'stress of campaigning' was 'threatening his health,' who could raise an eyebrow more than millimeter or two? The memory of his predecessor in his Senate seat, Paul Tsongas has not been erased from the history books. After 'beating cancer' and running for President unsuccessfully, Senator Tsongas subsequently lost his battle for survival.
Now, carefully consider step four.
Suddenly, with no warning, America faces the prospect of its first woman President. There is a wave of sympathy for Senator Kerry, and for his party, by extension. The nobility of his gesture wins him and the Democrats many points for statesmanship. Seamlessly, the wave of sympathy morphs into a wave of enthusiasm for Hillary, who can at last take America's women to a new stage of political recognition.
And there are only three or so weeks for her enemies to do their worst. No time to resurrect scandals past. And no desire on the public's part to relive the bad old days of Hillary—hating.
Have done her homework in step two, Hillary has said all the right things about tempering strength with wisdom, building bridges to allies, and being tough enough to deal with a hostile world, full of threats to our security. Hillary, tough enough to tenderize our enemies. A woman who has taken flak in her career, and been tough enough to soldier on, never giving—up.
The press would have a new, spectacularly interesting story to run with. Three weeks or so is just enough time to play it out to the max, but not enough time for a reaction to set in.
Hillary would win.
And she knows it.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.