It’s one thing for John Fund, Allahpundit, or me to speculate on whether Barack Obama will bother running for a second term. It’s another when one of the editors of a home-town newspaper tells a President to pull out. Stephen Chapman of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board writes in today’s paper that it’s time for the battered champ to hang ’em up:
I checked the Constitution, and he is under no compulsion to run for re-election. He can scrap the campaign, bag the fundraising calls and never watch another Republican debate as long as he’s willing to vacate the premises by Jan. 20, 2013.
That might be the sensible thing to do. It’s hard for a president to win a second term when unemployment is painfully high. If the economy were in full rebound mode, Obama might win anyway. But it isn’t, and it may fall into a second recession — in which case voters will decide his middle name is Hoover, not Hussein. Why not leave of his own volition instead of waiting to get the ax?
It’s not as though there is much enticement to stick around. Presidents who win re-election have generally found, wrote John Fortier and Norman Ornstein in their 2007 book, “Second-Term Blues,” that “their second terms did not measure up to their first.”
Well, there’s a scary thought.
So what would happen if Obama voluntarily stepped aside? Chapman has the same thought that occurred to me last month:
The ideal candidate would be a figure of stature and ability who can’t be blamed for the economy. That person should not be a member of Congress, since it has an even lower approval rating than the president’s.
It would also help to be conspicuously associated with prosperity. Given Obama’s reputation for being too quick to compromise, a reputation for toughness would be an asset.
As it happens, there is someone at hand who fits this description: Hillary Clinton. Her husband presided over a boom, she’s been busy deposing dictators instead of destroying jobs, and she’s never been accused of being a pushover.
This presumes that Obama would go gently into that single-term good night, the first President who declined to run for another term since LBJ. If he did, it still wouldn’t solve all of the Democrats’ problems. The “deposing dictators” is a cute line, but she was part of the decision process that ended up refusing to submit the Libyan adventure for Congressional approval. And the dictator hasn’t entirely disappeared yet, either, and we’re still not sure what will end up taking his place.
Even if Obama appeared to retire on his own a la LBJ, there would be a significant number of Democrats who would believe he’d been pushed — and pushed out by the Clintons and their clique. It’s no secret that Obama wanted to keep the Clintons at as much arms-length as he possibly could. He has not included Bill Clinton very often in official efforts even though Obama could clearly benefit from Clinton’s skills, and on the one memorable occasion where Obama called on the former President, Clinton ended up taking over the stage. Hillary would appeal to the voters Obama is losing — suburban families in the Rust Belt and Midwest — but a palace coup in the Democratic Party could split the hard-Left progressives and would certainly poison the relationship between the Democratic Party and black voters.
And if Obama won’t go on his own, then there is no play for Hillary. If she tried running a last-minute primary challenge now, all of the above comes into play — and she doesn’t have the time to build an organization that can compete with Obama’s in the field now. (Neither does anyone else, either.) After all, Hillary had the Clinton machine ready to deliver her to her 2008 coronation when Obama out-organized and out-boxed her, usurping her spot at the top of the ticket, and as an incumbent only has more resources on which to call this time around.
I’ve said repeatedly that I think a withdrawal by Obama is a low-probability event at best, and I still believe it to be a long shot. However, when the home-town papers are starting to make the call for retirement, it’s maybe not quite as much of a long shot as before.