Prediction: President Obama will, indeed, toss Vice President Biden under the bus and make Secretary of State Hillary Clinton his vice president.
And this should make Republicans happy. Very, very happy.
As Ronald Reagan’s chief strategist and pollster, Dick Wirthlin, maintained, “The first rule of presidential politics is to deal to strength—solidify your base first.”
The fact that Team Obama felt the need to float a trial balloon and send the Beltway into a buzz with the notion of a possible Hillary Clinton vice presidency is a sure sign that the president’s strategists, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, recognize the gravity of the political aftermath that is about to befall Democrats with the looming midterm congressional bloodletting. That reality is this: in the wake of the historic routing about to take place, Barack Obama’s popularity, among Democrats and Independents, will remain in a freefall.
So great will be the velocity of Mr. Obama’s descent that the only thing that may be able to break his fall, galvanize Democrats, and, most importantly for Obama, head off a serious and expensive intraparty challenge for the Democrat Party nomination, will be the historic naming of the first female Vice President.
If and when this happens, Democrats will be elated. Talk of the “Dream Ticket” will resurface. The hearts of liberal reporters and voters alike will be all aflutter. Both of Chris Matthews’s legs will tingle.
And then reality will settle in.
Naming Hillary Clinton vice president and adding her to the 2012 Democrat ticket will not be the electoral panacea Team Obama desperately hope it will be. Not only will it mean next to nothing electorally, it could prove a significant liability.
This is true for at least three reasons.
First, Democrats will contend that adding Hillary will bring greater fundraising capacity. And indeed, the Clinton fundraising machine is impressive. But fundraising has never been Obama’s problem. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s fundraising apparatus is a bottomless ATM machine. Moreover, for those leftist voters who believe that the most radical president in U.S. history has proven to be not radical enough, it’s hard to imagine how adding the more “moderate” Hillary Clinton will inspire them to max out federal campaign donor limits.
Second, while the initial and understandable exuberance and novelty of America’s “first female vice president” will be sizable, like the buzz with Nancy Pelosi’s historic role as the nation’s first female Speaker of the House, the novelty will be short-lived. According to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, at 59%, Nancy Pelosi’s unfavorability rating is currently the highest of any of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Worse for a Vice President Hillary Clinton would be the fact that, going into 2012, the argument that voters could cast a ballot to make a “historical first” would lack punch, as Hillary would have already been serving as vice president for some time.
Third, the argument that female voters, most especially Independent female voters, would naturally rally around a liberal female candidate is specious at best and erroneous at worst. To be sure, the mainstream media’s treatment of Hillary Clinton as a vice presidential running mate will be a dream compared to the treatment of Gov. Sarah Palin’s vice presidential bid. But as political scientists have long known, and as Mrs. Clinton herself experienced in her failed primary battle against Barack Obama, all other factors being equal, female voters tend to scrutinize female candidates more harshly than male candidates. It’s a phenomenon communication researchers call the “double bind.” What’s more, as even CNN concedes, 2010 has proven to be the year of the GOP woman. How Independent female voters will assess a Hillary vice presidential bid come 2012, therefore, remains to be seen.
Obviously, much will hinge on whom Republicans run in 2012. Furthermore, much can and will change between now and 2012. Still, for the reasons noted above and more, Republicans should be heartened. That Mr. Obama may feel it necessary to haul in Hillary and toss Biden under the bus would only be further evidence of a president in freefall.
Vice President Hillary Clinton may temporarily staunch Obama’s self-inflicted Democratic bleeding. But she will be no Superwoman.
Democrats’ “Dream Ticket” may yet prove a nightmare. Democrats ought to be careful what they wish for.