The Washington Post believes that Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric from her new platform as a high-paid lecturer contains a not-so-subtle rebuke of her former boss — and an attempt to distance herself from him. In the wake of the shutdown, the former Secretary of State and Senator has taken aim at Beltway gridlock, which is hardly an unusual topic, and pledged to bring greater unity, which sounds awfully familiar. It’s that latter point that the Post’s Philip Rucker hears as subtext:
In recent stump speeches and policy remarks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have offered sharp criticisms of the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington, signaling a potential 2016 campaign theme if Hillary Clinton chooses to run for president.
The Clintons’ critiques in recent days have been explicitly aimed at congressional Republicans, who helped spur a 16-day government shutdown and potential debt default in October. But their remarks also seem to contain an implicit rebuke of President Obama’s failure to change Washington as he pledged when first running for the White House.
The arguments suggest a way that Hillary Clinton could attempt to run in 2016 as an agent of change — potentially putting her at odds with the two-term Democrat she would be seeking to replace.
If so, then this should be filed in the Someone Left The Irony On Department. The Clintons are hardly known for their soft-pedal tactics in politics, and Hillary especially has been seen as a hard partisan. She coined the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy” to describe how her honest husband was being hounded by his opponents, until the Clintons had to admit that Bill wasn’t being all that honest in the first place. As Secretary of State, she may best be remembered for yelling What difference at this point does it make? at a Republican Senator for interrogating her over the State Department’s lies about the al-Qaeda attack on Benghazi.
Let’s step away from the irony for the moment. Can Hillary distance herself from Obama? It’s possible, but it would be a difficult task. The only executive experience Hillary has comes from her time as Secretary of State under Obama — and she has few accomplishments to her credit for those four years anyway. In fact, Hillary didn’t preside over one significant treaty or trade agreement from beginning to end in her term, a remarkable track record of mediocrity. Her tenure was bookended by an embarrassing “reset button” with Russia and a humiliating defeat in Benghazi. Her only path to the presidency rests firmly on Barack Obama’s coattails. By 2016, no one will have voted for her husband in 20 years, or for her in eight.
That may explain the recent drop in the polls for Hillary, too. As Obama’s problems mount, Americans might be more likely to stick with him while discounting the obvious successor to his administration. Obama’s own polling has hit the skids anyway, but Hillary’s have really taken a dive this year without any real significant event linked to the decline — except Obama’s problems, and the foreign-relations fiasco in Syria well after Hillary’s departure. As such, then, the acute polling issues are less meaningful to Hillary than they look, but the chronic lame-duck status of Obama may end being a huge drag on her presidential ambitions.
Hence the distancing. However, this has another somewhat ironic dimension. The last major presidential candidate to run away from the President he served was Al Gore — who took a lot of heat from Clintonistas for his strategy after his narrow loss to George W. Bush. Will history repeat itself?