By Luke Brinker
Economist and Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich and New York Times columnist Bill Keller are the latest figures to float a Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton ticket this year. Reich proposes a Clinton-Biden switcheroo, whereby Vice President Joe Biden moves into Clinton’s position as secretary of state and Clinton fills out the bottom half of Obama’s ticket. There’s an undeniable logic to this scheme: Biden’s strong suit has long been foreign affairs – he’s the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – and the vice presidency would position Clinton to make a presidential bid in 2016. That said, it isn’t going to happen.
Speculation that Obama would replace Biden with Clinton actually pre-dates the president’s election. Back in early September 2008, when Sarah Palin provided a jolt of energy to John McCain’s presidential campaign and Obama was lagging in the polls, some pundits argued that Obama should ditch Biden for Clinton in order to secure the female vote and invigorate the Democratic base. Chatter about a 2012 job swap intensified in the fall of 2010, when journalist Bob Woodward reported that a Clinton-Biden flip was “on the table.” The possibility of such a move certainly makes for entertaining Beltway discussion, but none of the parties involved have evinced even the slightest hint that a switch is in the realm of possibility.
Would Biden be a natural fit for secretary of state? Quite possibly. But John Kerry, who gave the president a crucial endorsement in 2008 shortly after Obama’s loss to Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, badly wanted the job in 2008. Clinton has said she will retire after Obama’s first term is up, and Kerry, the current Foreign Relations chairman, is the most logical successor. Moreover, Biden has hinted he may run for president in 2016, so there would be little reason for him to take a demotion.
And what of Clinton? She says she has no plans to run for president again, but many can’t shed the suspicion that she doesn’t mean it. However, every time she’s addressed the subject of a future political run, she’s given the impression that she sincerely wants time off to write, teach, or maybe, after more than 20 years as a national figure, to actually relax. I take Clinton at her word that she has no presidential designs, but even if she changes her mind, the vice presidency is not a prerequisite to the Oval Office. She enjoys sky-high approval ratings (largely thanks to a job that places her above the political fray), but serving as vice president for four years under a lame-duck president would be unlikely to boost her public image. If Hillary has 2016 on her mind, she surely knows that a few years of convalescence would be far more beneficial than slogging out another term in the Obama administration.
Finally, while it’s possible that Clinton’s selection for vice president would energize the Democratic base, it would reek of desperation on Obama’s part. And once Clinton rejoined the nitty-gritty of electoral politics, her near-70 percent approval ratings would plummet. A cunning political tactician, Clinton is undoubtedly aware of this. Whether the chattering class likes it or not, it’s going to be an Obama-Biden ticket in November.