March 12, 2008
Is Hillary McCain's Fifth Column?By Jeffrey Schmidt
No one doubts that Hillary Clinton is playing for all the marbles this year. But what if she fails to undercut Barak Obama's lead and loses her party's nomination? And what if the Illinois senator goes on to capture the presidency this November? What does the future hold for Senator Clinton?
Well, not much, not by Clintonian standards, and that's why she has begun laying the groundwork to help John McCain defeat Senator Obama in a General Election matchup. Absent her own presidency, a McCain presidency may better serve her interests.
If she loses her fight with Barak Obama, it is hard to see Senator Clinton satisfied with a consolation prize. Given her vaunting ambition and oversized ego, the vice presidency would not suit her. She's never made a good second banana, anyway; her tenure as First Lady proves it. Her fingerprints were all over policy during her husband's administration, starting with the infamous attempt at government control of the nation's healthcare. She was meddlesome in personnel decisions -- Janet Reno, among others. For her, the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton was a co-presidency. That her name wasn't right alongside her husband's on the marquee must still chafe.
And what would the vice presidency avail her? Would she see it as a steppingstone to the presidency eight years hence? Not likely, given that she'd be in her late sixties then, and after two terms of a Democrat in the White House, voters may well be ready to elect a Republican.
What about one of the high profile cabinet portfolios -- State, Defense, Attorney General? In terms of a path to the presidency, none leads directly; all are contingent on direction from the White House. And her success, to some measure, would become a President Obama's success.
And, lest we forget, Barak Obama would have something to say about bringing Senator Clinton into his administration. As someone with a well-earned reputation as brassy, overbearing and experienced at in-fighting, Senator Clinton would be a millstone around the Illinoisan's neck. Bringing Senator Clinton on board is something Barak Obama is not likely to do unless his back is to the wall.
A seat on the Supreme Court? Legislating from the bench may intrigue Senator Clinton, but how often are justices in the news? How many monuments around Washington are dedicated to Supreme Court Justices?
Or might Senator Clinton settle for status as the Grand Old Lady of the United States Senate? Not realistic, since every corpuscle in Hillary Clinton's body exudes "executive." For someone who has a hunger to lead, collegiality goes only so far.
A top job in the private sector or at a big nonprofit might help scratch her leadership itch, but for a woman whose entire adult life has been geared toward amassing political power and attaining the nation's highest elected office, running a high tech outfit or the United Way or Greenpeace falls short.
Senator Clinton wants to be president like some people want to make it to the top of Mount Everest: in the worst possible of way. If she can't succeed in 2008, she'll pursue a strategy to position herself for the next possible run. 2012 is the next window and the best option for her-provided John McCain can defeat Barak Obama.
Given the Clintons' penchant for gamesmanship, the positioning is already well underway. The Clinton campaign is now running a dual track strategy. Track One is centered on ways of pulling the rug out from under Senator Obama and securing the Democratic nomination. This means doing everything from strident negative campaigning to cutting backroom deals with super delegates. It's Pull-Out-All-the-Stops time for Team Clinton, and, rest assured, every stop will be pulled.
Track Two is essentially part and parcel of Track One. If Senator Clinton can't win the nomination, she'll cede it to Senator Obama -- what's her alternative? -- but on a much diminished scale. She'll send the Illinois senator into the General Election bloodied and rubber-legged after a spring and summer worth of pummeling.
And she's begun to do something else. She's adding a subtext to her stump speeches. It's praise for Senator McCain, for his experience. An article by Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard (The Veepstakes) offers these insights:
By doing so, she's speaking to her voter base. Yes, ostensibly, it's aimed at raising red flags with wavering Democrats about Senator Obama's viability in the General Election against Senator McCain. But it's also code. She's giving her voters -- older, whiter, blue-collar and more traditional -- permission to vote for the Arizona Republican next autumn, if it comes to that.
As to a bloody battle with Senator Obama leaving a bitter taste in Democrats' mouths, Senator Clinton will wager that a lot of fence-mending over thirty-six months will heal the party.
In gaming this election and the future, Senator Clinton just may be betting that a President McCain, age seventy-six, come 2012, will opt out. Age, a troubled economy and protracted American involvement in Iraq may be salient factors in settling that part of the equation.
Of course, scenarios have ways of not working out. The economy may be on the upswing in 2012. Iraqis may have made much progress in establishing a workable democracy. John McCain may be quite spry. But if you want to be president as badly as Hillary Clinton does, you play the best game around.
Jeffrey Schmidt is A Public Affairs Consultant.