(Providence, Rhode Island) – Former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton paid a trip to New Hampshire this past week, her first visit since formally announcing her candidacy for President of the United States. The Granite State was a redemptive factor for her in 2008, as it was for her husband Bill Clinton back in 1992. New Hampshire was a positive, pivotal point for both of their campaigns. That got me to thinking, “What is former President Clinton’s role in his wife’s 2016 bid for the White House?” Let’s “brunch” on that this week:
“WWBCD” – That stands for “What would Bill Clinton do?” First, I am not trying to mock the popular religious saying; instead, I am trying to channel it in the political realm. Like him or not, Bill Clinton remains a very popular figure in this country. Aside from Ronald Reagan, he is the only other President in my lifetime (and there have been ten) who could have won a third term if not for the 22nd Amendment. Let’s be clear: It’s Hillary’s race to win or lose, and she must be the driving force. But he could certainly be an “x-factor”.
“Knock, Hello? Anyone Home?” -- The fact that Hillary Clinton has no viable opponents right now puts her on the glide path to an easy nomination. That may sound like a blessing; it is not! Without primary opponents there are no debates; there is little spark of controversy; and, consequently, there is little room for her in the headlines. The Republicans look as if they are going to have a “Battle Royale,” so they will garner the vast majority of the press attention. Bottom line: "Out of sight, out of mind" is not a high-profile strategy.
“Invite Opponents” – Here is my boldest strategy suggestion to date. Bill Clinton should meet quietly with former Governor Martin O’Malley, and plead with him to join the race. He should even suggest that O’Malley criticize Hillary on some issues (and, indeed, O’Malley has already pointed out some areas where they disagree). Mrs. Clinton needs a foil in the primaries, as a boxer needs a sparring partner for months before a championship fight. I would also suggest that former President Clinton “invite” Vice President Joe Biden to join the race, too; but I think Biden will find a way there on his own.
“Stir the Pot!” – I know I sound as if I am trying to provoke a Clinton vs. O’Malley fight, and to some extent I am. I have been predicting here for months that former Secretary Clinton would pick O’Malley as her running mate, and I stick to that. Believe it or not, a feisty intraparty fight has little downside. In 1980, George H.W. Bush called Ronald Reagan’s budget ideas “voodoo economics.” Despite that caustic attack, which many of us remember to this day, Bush got the VP nod for eight years and then became President in his own right. It also paved the way for one son – and now possibly another – to become President. That’s the kind of dynasty the Clintons hope to create as well!
“Divest the Foundation” – At some point – and it’s already simmering – the Clintons need to address the issue of the Clinton Foundation. Look! It’s well intended and does a lot of good work, but some contributions by wealthy donors and foreign countries gave the feeling of “quid pro quo” while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State. Maybe the Clintons should turn the foundation over to a blind trust, or pick a bipartisan board of directors to run it until further notice. Another idea might be to stop taking any contributions for the foreseeable future, but donate the accumulated interest each year, without touching the principle. Anyway, it’s a headache they need to deal with.
“Don’t Let Her Be ‘Gored’” – Bill Clinton should campaign for his wife all over the country, but particularly in the South and in minority communities. Al Gore made the fatal mistake of not accepting Bill Clinton’s offer to campaign in those constituencies. Had President Clinton done so, it’s possible Gore might have won Tennessee or Arkansas - either one of which would have put Gore in the White House regardless of what happened in Florida. This time Bill Clinton could help keep Virginia and North Carolina blue; and he could be a big power broker in Florida and - yes - maybe even in Arkansas.
“Be a Norman Rockwell Painting!” – One thing Bill Clinton could do is be a more frequent part of the family portrait. It will be critical for him to be in lots of photo ops with his wife, daughter Chelsea and son-in-law Marc, as well as the Clintons' grandchild. Voters love family-centric candidates regardless of party, but the Clintons have been challenged in this area, to say the least. It’s never too late to recreate their public image; and - as we know - in politics, real or perceived images matter.
“The Steady Hand of Leadership” – This will sound like a complete contradiction, because Bill Clinton was elected President in his mid 40s, becoming one of our country’s youngest Commanders-in-Chief. However, this time he might attack the GOP candidates for being too young and inexperienced. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) are all still in their 40s. The Clintons – now both in their late 60s – could campaign on being the steady hand of experience. It would be a Houdini-like trick, but I bet the Clintons could pull it off.
“Why He Wants the White House So Badly” – I spent a lot of time covering Bill Clinton as he campaigned for his wife in 2008. At first, people questioned his motives and their relationship: Do they really love each other, or is this just a political business arrangement? I spoke with him a few times (photo above) and covered many rallies – some at which she was present but mostly where he was on his own. I have never seen a more passionate campaigner in my career. Hands down, he truly believes she’d be a great President; and he really wants to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again. Yes, some of it is about influencing the world’s power structure again; but much of it is about Bill Clinton’s legacy, too. If she wins, he wins! It will be fascinating to watch as his role unfolds.
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