August 12, 2011
Obama/Hillary Coming Soon to a Primary Near You?By James G. Wiles
Well, it's all up to Hillary Clinton now if the Democratic Party is to survive the 2012 elections.
That's what two important media outlets -- Tina Brown's Daily Beast and London's Daily Telegraph -- both reported in the same twenty-four-hour news cycle. Faced with what looks to be the political collapse of the Obama administration, the liberal spin cycle is spinning like a top. It's "run, Hillary, run!" time.
For some disillusioned liberals, the woman and the moment have met. And the truth is, reviewing the last 60 years of American political history, it would be an anomaly if President Barack Obama did not face a serious primary challenge within his own party. Just look at the facts.
The last week has seen a triple-whammy to Mr. Obama's reelection prospects. First, the news broke last Friday evening that America's sovereign debt had been downgraded to AA+. Next morning came the terrible loss of 30 American troops in a single incident in Afghanistan, a war Obama embraced, whose causalities are mounting steeply. Then, on Monday, stock markets resumed their steep decline, frighteningly yo-yoing this week, seemingly out of control.
Without question, the Goddess of History has presented Mrs. Clinton with the perfect excuse to challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. Think of it: a resignation as secretary of state on grounds of high principle (something new to the Clintons) and a vigorous denunciation of Mr. Obama's demonstrated failures of leadership, all presented as being sorrowfully undertaken (Bill will bite his lip here) in the best interests of the American people.
Truly, truly, such an opportunity will not come again. At least, let's hope not.
As it appears, the president has lashed himself to the mast of his wrong-headed, ideologically driven policies. The Obama White House, "a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House" told Politico on Tuesday, has no choice but to win ugly.
So they will. How?
"Kill Romney," the same source told Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin.
In the meantime, the president is, no doubt, packing for vacation while praying devotedly to...well, let's not go there...that something good will happen while he's in Martha's Vineyard. I hope we get Mullah Omar and the rest of the Quetta shura. But it won't help.
Mr. Obama has to know that, if Hillary comes in, all bets are off.
And Hillary, Bill, and that formidable entity known as the Clinton Machine (best chronicled in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Game-Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime) have to be figuring the odds. This chance may not come again. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton already know all the relevant political history too. They know it because they lived it, as college students and antiwar political activists.
It began when the Archangel Barack was six and living with his mom and stepfather in Indonesia.
Spring, 1968: the Tet Offensive in Vietnam is used by disillusioned liberals and the media to boost Senator Eugene McCarthy to a perceived "victory" over President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. By the time of the Wisconsin primary two weeks later, LBJ drops out. This time, McCarthy wins outright.
Days later, Bobby Kennedy is in. Ultimately, after RFK's assassination, LBJ's vice president Hubert Humphrey secured the Democratic nomination. But HHH then lost to the Republican, Richard M. Nixon.
The year 1968 was the last time a sitting U.S. president (like Mr. Obama, a Democrat) was denied re-nomination for a second term by a member of his own party. But it was not the only time.
The previous occasion was in 1952 -- also in the midst of a long, unpopular war, this one in Korea -- when President Harry Truman dropped out after Senator Estes Kefauver won the New Hampshire primary. The Democrats ultimately nominated Adlai Stevenson. He then lost to Dwight Eisenhower.
So, it's worth underlining that, in both cases, the successful challenger did not go on to win the Democratic Party's nomination. And, furthermore, in both cases, the Republicans ultimately won the general election.
That basic pattern recurred in 1980.
That spring, Senator Edward Kennedy announced a challenge to President Jimmy Carter. Vowed the born-again Southern Baptist peanut-farmer president (who was also a Sunday school teacher and a former naval officer): "I'll whip his ass." Carter did -- and thereafter lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan.
There are your precedents. In the last sixty years, each time there's been a successful or serious primary challenge to a sitting Democratic president, the Democrats ended up losing the White House. In 1952 and 1968, the Democrats were out of power for eight years. After 1980, they didn't hold the White House again for twelve years.
Bill and Hillary know all this. They also know that, viewed from the perspective of today, 2012 doesn't look to be a Democratic year. Yet they also know everything and everyone needed -- fundraising and media sources, campaign staff, relevant phone numbers, faxes and e-mail addresses -- to take the Democratic Party away from a sitting Democratic president.
The Clinton Machine is there, like dragon's teeth, ready to leap back to life.
Republicans, by and large, don't do primary challenges -- at least until the Tea Party came along. The last Republican challenger to a sitting president was Ronald Reagan, against President Gerald Ford in 1976. He failed. But then, as on the Democratic side, Ford then lost the general election to Jimmy Carter.
So, is this history relevant or is it merely an instance of the analytical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc?
That's what Mrs. Clinton and the Clinton Machine have to think about. So, granted that Mrs. Clinton has been handed by Fate (or Fortuna) the opportunity of her career. Granted that the Democratic dynasties which in 2008 backed Obama (the Daleys and the Kennedys) over the dynasty of the Clintons to succeed the Republican dynasty of the Bushes are now out of power. Granted that Governor Jerry Brown in California is still a flake.
But: is the Democratic nomination in 2012 a prize worth seizing? Or is it a poisoned chalice? Such is the decision confronting Mrs. Clinton and her advisors.
See also: Between Hillary and a Hard Place
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