There is a reason why it is so difficult for two-term presidents to be succeeded by a member of their party. It has only happened once in the post-war era, and that was largely because George H. W. Bush was seen as the inheritor of a legacy of sustained economic growth and the beating back of Soviet communism.
Democrats have reason to believe that the presidential electorate heavily favors Democratic candidates, but Hillary Clinton’s quest to succeed Barack Obama in the Oval Office is unlikely to be as easy as Bush’s. Despite a belated spate of renewed economic growth, Clinton is vying to replace a president who presided over six years of recession. She will also have to convince the American public that she can prosecute the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria more comprehensively than her predecessor. In short, Clinton will have to draw a number of contrasts between herself and her former boss.
In that effort, Clinton is off to a rocky start. With the announcement that former Clinton White House chief of staff and Obama administration advisor John Podesta is formally joining the Clinton campaign-in-waiting, it is clear that Democrats want the transition from Obama’s White House to Hillary’s White House to be a smooth one.
“In the White House, Mr. Podesta has been among President Barack Obama’s small circle of top advisers, keeping a hand in both foreign and domestic policy and counseling the president on topics including Ebola and immigration,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “He negotiated an agreement with the Chinese government on Mr. Obama’s behalf aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Podesta is not the only political figure closely associated with Obama to join Clinton’s team. The president’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, is now the co-chairman of the super PAC, Priorities USA Action. That PAC has also transitioned from serving the interests of the Obama White House to laying the groundwork for a Clinton campaign.
“Clinton fundraisers tied to Priorities have been making overtures to some of Mr. Obama’s most loyal fundraisers, seeking to reconstitute the Obama political coalition as the Clinton campaign apparatus,” The Journal reported in October. “That’s not always going well.”
One Obama fundraiser recounted a call from a Priorities emissary urging him to align himself with the former secretary of state should she run. The fundraiser said he isn’t sold on Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy and told the Priorities official as much.
Obama’s longtime pollster Joel Benenson, too, announced last week that he will be working with Clinton’s campaign team.
Even the commentary class recognizes that Clinton is going to find it difficult to make the case that her presidency would be a dramatic divergence from Obama’s if she is surrounded by the president’s team members.
With Benenson-Margolis-Podesta, clear that Hillary 2016 won't be to run away from Obama — in fact, might be more connected than ever
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) January 14, 2015
The reality is that Clinton does not have much of a choice but to embrace the Obama team. The only Democrats to have occupied the White House in two generations have been either Obamas or Clintons, and their staffs overlap significantly. What’s more, Clinton’s time as Obama’s ranking Cabinet member will make it nearly impossible to effectively distance herself from the president.
She is probably better off embracing Obama legacy rather than clumsily attempting to distance herself from the president. At the very least, it would be a less contrived approach to campaigning for the presidency.