Jewish World Review March 12, 2004 / 19 Adar, 5764
For Hillary, it's now or never
If Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) beats President Bush and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is not on the Democratic ticket as a vice presidential candidate, she will probably never be president of the United States. This cold, hard fact is staring the Clintons in the face as they assess the best way to inaugurate a new Clinton presidency.
Consider the options and their historic contexts:
If Kerry wins in 2004, he will very likely seek re-election. The last time a president served four years and didn't try to succeed himself was back in 1880 and the president was Rutherford B. Hayes. So, unless Hillary wants to try to mount the first successful challenge to a presidential renomination since Gene McCarthy forced Lyndon Johnson into retirement in 1968, she will have to sit out the 2008 contest.
Should Kerry be re-elected, his vice president will probably be the Democratic candidate in 2012. All five times, since 1960, that a vice president sought the nomination for president after his party controlled the White House for at least two terms he has gotten it (Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Gerald Ford in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1980, Al Gore in 2000). That means that Hillary would be out in the cold until at least 2016 and, if the Democrat won and was re-elected, until 2020. She'll be 73 by then.
Even if Kerry is elected and loses a bid for a second term, his vice president would still be the favorite in 2012. Twice, since 1960, a man who served as vice president has come back in a subsequent year to win his party's nomination Nixon in 1968 and Walter Mondale in 1984. Humphrey failed to get the nod in 1972, but he had already run and lost four years before. Dan Quayle failed also, but he was, well, Quayle.
If Bush is re-elected, Hillary doesn't need to have been on Kerry's ticket. She can still prevail in 2008 over Kerry's defeated vice presidential nominee. After all, neither Ed Muskie in 1972, Bob Dole in 1996 nor Joe Lieberman in 2004 was able to convert a losing bid for vice president into a successful race for president (two of the three weren't even nominated).
But if Kerry wins and another person is vice president, how will Hillary keep fresh until 2012? In the Senate while all the Democratic action is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue? And how will she compete with a sitting vice president who has all the resources of the White House at his disposal and eight years to build up his momentum?
She can't, and she won't.
So what should she do? If Kerry is anywhere close to Bush at convention time, she'd better go for the second spot. A close defeat wouldn't hurt her and, if Kerry wins, it will be her only way to become the second President Clinton.
And don't kid yourself; the decision is Hillary's to make. The Clintons still control the Democratic Party. If Hillary wants to run for vice president, Kerry has to go along.
For him to spurn the former first lady would be to cause a schism in the party. He'll be pulling knives out of his back for the entire race.
In any case, it is in Kerry's interest to ensure that the Clintons will work for him and not undermine his candidacy. The logic of their need for a Bush re-election to assure a Hillary presidency is just too compelling. Kerry needs to put Hillary on his ticket as a kind of hostage to be certain of the Clintons' strong and full support. There are just too many ways that the Clintons can sabotage his candidacy without seeming to be doing so. (For example, Bill can publish his memoirs in September or October of 2004 and create a massive distraction that would force Kerry off center stage).
Kerry needs Hillary on the ticket. A vice presidential candidacy by her would turn his campaign into a crusade and would energize her supporters to a fever pitch. It would summon all the good memories of the Clinton prosperity without the bad reminders of Monica et al. But, most of all, Kerry cannot afford to leave the Clintons sulking, like Achilles, in their tent. Otherwise, Troy will go Republican.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris