No, Hillary Clinton Is Not Going To Replace Joe Biden As Vice-President
The "Clinton-Biden Switcheroo" Scenario is the pundit's fantasy that will not die.
If there’s one meme in modern politics, it’s the idea that Barack Obama either could or should replace Vice-President Biden as his running mate with Hillary Clinton. It’s an idea that’s been around almost as long as Barack Obama has been in the Oval Office. As far as I’ve been able to tell, I first wrote about it back in June 2010 when Sally Quinn suggested the idea. More recently, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration Robert Reich made the idea his own, to be followed only two weeks later by former New York Times Editor Bill Keller. Throughout all of this speculation, the White House has consistently shot down the rumors that Clinton would swap jobs with Biden. Biden himself has said more than once that he intends to run with the President in 2012, and Secretary Clinton has made clear that she considers Secretary of State to be her last public job and that she has no interest in running for political office again.
And yet, the fantasy will not. It’s latest incarnation comes in William Kristol’s latest column in The Weekly Standard:
For our part, we’d like to see a decisive triumph for Romney and his running mate over two formidable representatives of contemporary liberalism, rather than a discounted victory over a flawed ticket with only one strong candidate. So we sincerely suggest to President Obama: Dump Joe Biden.
We’re sure the thought has occurred to the president. He knows his undisciplined vice president did him no service by popping off about same-sex marriage on Meet the Press, thereby forcing Obama to engage the issue prematurely. Instead of making his announcement of his evolution in a well-prepared speech for which the groundwork had been laid, the president arranged a rushed interview in which he rather inarticulately expressed his personal view in a way that persuaded no one who wasn’t already convinced. This wasn’t good for him.
Nor is Biden’s presence on the ticket. In a Fox News poll last week, President Obama had a 52 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable rating. Vice President Biden’s numbers in the same poll were 41 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable. In other words, Biden will clearly be a drag on Obama’s fortunes this fall.
Who should replace Biden? Everyone knows the answer. Hillary Clinton received nearly 18 million votes in the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Her rating in a Washington Post survey a couple of weeks ago was 65 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable. Biden hurts Obama. She would help him.
What’s more, she’d help with precisely the undecided voters Obama needs in November. Many of them are white, working- and middle-class Americans who supported her in the 2008 primaries. They overcame their disappointment at Clinton’s defeat to vote for Obama that November. But many became disillusioned and voted Republican in 2010, producing that year’s GOP landslide. Barack Obama needs to win back as many of them as possible in 2012. They voted for Hillary Clinton once. Surely they’d be more likely to return to Obama if given the opportunity to vote for her again as part of the ticket.
Commentary’s Peter Wehner seems to agree:
For one thing, Biden is literally, God love him, a buffoon. His counsel and predictions are almost always wrong, from telling us we’d see an increase in 500,000 jobs a month during the 2010 “recovery summer” (a figure that was ludicrously off target) to advising the president not to take out Osama bin Laden. More often than not, Biden makes news by his verbal miscues (“jobs” is a three-letter word, Obama “has a big stick, I promise you,” et cetera). He’s a person who’s almost impossible to take seriously.
In addition, the president is frantically trying to boost his standing with (in particular) college educated white women, and his mindset is that placing Hillary Clinton on the ticket could seal the deal. It’s also a decision that would energize liberals without offending anyone within the Democratic Party (Biden has no real constituency).
A final reason — and I think an under appreciated one — is the anger the president and his closest advisers harbor for the vice president, whose “Meet the Press” interview forced Obama to announce his support for same-sex marriage earlier than he wanted to. Worse, at least from the president’s perspective, is that what Biden did was to make Obama’s announcement look political rather than principled.
Obama, marinated in the Chicago Way of politics, doesn’t possess any deep sense of personal loyalty. (See the bus Obama’s “spiritual mentor” Jeremiah Wright found himself under for more.) And whatever residual loyalty the president felt for Biden has, I think, been shattered after Biden’s “Meet the Press” misstep.
Joseph Curl at The Washington Times made a similar argument earlier this week. And, in today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky picks up on the theme by arguing that picking Hillary would end any danger that President Obama would lose his advantage among women:
Clinton’s positive numbers are off the charts. Biden’s are so-so—both approval and disapproval sit in the 40s. Biden’s putative asset, that he helps a bit with white working-class and Catholic voters, is even truer of Clinton, the famous drinker of shots in those proletarian Pennsylvania bars. And women—forget about it. An Obama-Clinton ticket would pulverize any Romney ticket on the distaff side (is that insulting? I’m just trying to avoid repeating the word “women” too much). It wouldn’t matter if he put Carrie Underwood on his ticket.
I know, I know. It’s silly. I can right now picture the friends reading this who will write me to say, “Mike, that’s silly.” It probably is. But here are a few points for your consideration that aren’t silly at all.
[B]ring in Hillary. Forget about it. The most consistently admired woman in America over the last 20 years? The gender gap would be 20 points. And the Obama and Clinton machines fused like that—it’s like Secretariat and Zenyatta breeding. And the signal sent to Democrats and women across the country that the whole thing is being teed up for her in 2016. This would be a blowout.
And Biden, you ask? Well, the gay-marriage thing might finally have been the straw that made Obama think it’s not so great having Joe around. But don’t feel bad for him. He benefits from the fact that the White House would have to do this smoothly, which means Biden can’t possibly just be hung out to dry. So he’s going to be landing on a $300 goose-down pillow. He gets to be secretary of state—the job he’s dreamed of for years anyway!
As a preliminary matter, I have gotten the impression that many people on the right have a pretty odd view of the relationship between the President and the Vice-President. By all the accounts that we’ve heard, the two of them have worked closely together since the beginning of the Administration. They both receive the same daily intelligence and economic briefings together virtually every day, Biden has been closely involved in all of the major foreign policy decisions that the Administration has made even when the advice he gave was opposite from what the President has decided, and the limited reports we’ve seen about their personal relationship seems to indicate that they get along well together notwithstanding the fact that Biden is quite literally old enough to be the President’s father. More importantly, the White House and the Obama campaign has made use of Biden in key areas around the country as part of the re-election campaign. If that’s the sign of a President who’s about to toss his Vice-President overboard, they’re putting on a pretty good act.
It also seems as if the right is putting far more emphasis on the whole Biden Meet The Press episode than is probably warranted. It’s true that Biden’s comments three weeks ago did set a chain of events into motion that forced the White House to move forward on the issue before it wanted to. It’s also true that several White House staffers were reportedly upset with Biden over this, and that Biden himself went to the President and apologized for the incident. Despite all of that, though, there’s no indication that the relationship between the two men, or their staffs, as soured nearly as significantly Kristol and Wehner would like to think, and there’s certainly no evidence that it’s caused anyone to think seriously about removing Biden from office.
Finally, I have to say that it strikes me that a lot of people, especially on the right, continue to underestimate Joe Biden. He’s not the most articulate person out there, he has a tendency to speak before thinking sometimes, and he doesn’t always come across as the brightest bulb in the drawer. However, he’s shown himself to be a darn good campaigner on the stump, which is one of the most important roles for a Vice-President, and he appears to be a valuable member of the President’s inner circle on issues like foreign policy. Vice-President’s have always been the subjects of jokes, and Biden has been the subject of more than a few good ones, but it strikes me that he’s done a fairly good in the job the President asked him to fill.
In reality, of course, Curl, Kristol, and Wehner are not giving the President serious advice. Both men are conservatives and want to see Barack Obama defeated in November. Tomasky is a liberal, but he seems to be infected with the same pundits virus that has caused those before him to put forward what is, in the end, a fundamentally ridiculous argument. Despite their arguments to the contrary, they are both likely intelligent enough to know that replacing a Vice-President on the ticket at this late date for anything other than a serious medical reason would be politically harmful to the President, even if Biden was replaced by someone like Clinton. Such a move would be seen, correctly, as an act of desperation and weakness on Obama’s part, and a tacit admission that he cannot win re-election without Hillary on the ticket. Since it’s still rather clear at this early date in the General Election that the odds remain in the President’s favor on re-election, this entire scenario is perhaps even sillier than it was when people started proposing it way back in 2010.
With the Democratic National Convention still about three months away, there’s still plenty of other opportunities for the rest of the punditocracy to float this ridiculous scenario, and perhaps even a few others. Pay no attention to them. There are few certainties in this election but one of them is that, barring some kind of extraordinary event like a medical emergency that hopefully does not occur, Joe Biden will be standing next to Barack Obama when the two of them accept their parties nomination in Charlotte. Count on it.