A guest article by David Herdson
So, itâ€™s over. After over 16 months of formal candidacy and eight years or so as the Democratic front-runner for this nomination, Hillaryâ€™s finally bowed out of the race. She put up a strong fight, winning many millions of votes in the primaries and raising vast amounts of money. Unfortunately for her, Obama raised even vaster amounts and concentrated his votes more effectively (especially in the caucuses). That provides the Democrats with a very strong base for November, though it would be foolish to write off the Republicans, who have won seven of the last ten presidential elections.
It does leave open a big question about what Hillary is going to do next. She and Obama spoke between the final primaries in South Dakota and Montana, and her withdrawal this weekend. That may have been a perfunctory and necessary call between candidates in advance of one withdrawing and the other being declared the winner, but it seems more than likely that they will have discussed what Hillary wants next.
Itâ€™s well known that reform of the healthcare system is something sheâ€™s been very keen on for many years. In terms of wanting something for others, rather than herself, that would look to be where the focus will be. Since itâ€™s looked likely that she was going to lose, sheâ€™s probably focussed on the topic even more heavily – perhaps putting down a marker for her next campaign.
That campaign is unlikely to be a presidential one. If Obama wins this year, there will not be a vacancy for a Democrat at the White House until 2016, by which time Hillary will be 69 and would probably be facing still opposition from Obamaâ€™s vice-president as well as others. If he loses, she might just stand a second time in 2012, and McCain in his late seventies wonâ€˜t be the strongest of incumbents, but that pre-supposes a lot.
First of all, she still has her day job. Being Senator for New York is a powerful, important and time-consuming job. Having taken six months off campaigning for the presidency, she needs to start putting some time back into her very large constituency. One aside to note here: if she does run in 2012, sheâ€™ll have to stand down from the senate as her term ends that year as well, and she canâ€™t realistically campaign for both simultaneously.
Being a senator offers her many opportunities. For a start, she has an excellent platform to promote her case for healthcare reform. Were she to sponsor legislation, which Obama as president was signed up to, there should be enough political weight behind it to see it enacted, providing the Democrats can keep control of Congress, which has to be the most likely outcome.
That could be part of the deal. Another question is whether it goes further. The leadership of the Senate is not strictly up for grabs, but Clinton has a massive national mandate from Democrats and beyond, and that could be enough to push Harry Reid out if he does not put up too much of a fight and if she wants it. That said, Senate Majority Leader is a very powerful role and the pride that senators have in their venerable institution will work against any suggestion that the leadership of it is a consolation prize for failed presidential candidates.
A different tack to healthcare reform would be to become Obamaâ€™s Secretary of Health and Human Services, though that has many drawbacks and few things to recommend it. Although she would no doubt get the position â€˜on the nodâ€™ if she wanted it, the ability for the president to remove her almost at will would make it very unattractive. It gives her no real institutional powerbase and her only defences would be her popularity and influence. Furthermore, while Obama would find it difficult to sack her because of the fuss she could kick up, he would find it very easy to sideline her should he want to.
The one position in the White House (apart from that which Obama is running for) that does give a relatively independent powerbase is the Vice-Presidency. Unfortunately, it does not offer much else, except the chance to go to all the best funerals and to provide a good springboard for the party nomination at the end of the presidential term – though perhaps not when the vice-president is a decade and a half older that the man in the Oval Office. In terms of â€˜getting things doneâ€™, it only offers the ability to do what the president allows – though any sensible president will allow a fair bit, not least because otherwise, a vice-president can easily undermine his or her â€˜bossâ€™. The fact that she would bring with her both her own regrets (so near and yet so far, twice over), and her husband – the 42nd president – are not necessarily things to recommend her to Obama either.
One of a prospective vice-presidentâ€™s main jobs is to deliver votes in the election that the presidential nominee needs and wouldnâ€™t otherwise get. Whether Hillary is best placed to do that is also open to doubt, though her very strong performance in the primaries canâ€™t be ignored. However, Obama will be fighting McCain in November and the dynamics will be different from the primary contest, though that said, the votes from her key support bases wouldnâ€™t go amiss for him. Overall though, itâ€™s hard to avoid the conclusion that it would be a bad move for her and not the best for him.
Are there any other options? Perhaps two that are worth considering. She was a successful lawyer and is an experienced politician. She could be an option as a Supreme Court justice in the future. That would serve various purposes for a President Obama, and might be attractive to Hillary.
The willingness of politicians to strut the world stage tends to increase once domestic opportunities have passed. Because Hillary has a domestic agenda, thatâ€™s not likely to happen immediately, but were McCain to win in November – donâ€™t rule it out – it would make it much harder to get that agenda implemented. Even so, with only moderate political success at home and few achievements abroad, she would still be her husbandâ€™s wife overseas, especially if it was obvious that her best days were behind her.
David Herdson is a regular contributor to PB and one of the most respected commentators on the site.
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