Carney: No, no one took a VP change seriously in 2012

Normally I’d chalk nearly anything Jay Carney says as spin, but on this point I think he’s telling the truth. A new book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reports that Barack Obama chief of staff William Daley wanted to push Joe Biden off the ticket in favor of Hillary Clinton, but Carney dismisses this as low-level chatter rather than serious strategy debate:

The New York Times reported the story last night:

President Obama’s top aides secretly considered replacing Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with Hillary Rodham Clinton on the 2012 ticket, undertaking extensive focus-group sessions and polling in late 2011 when Mr. Obama’s re-election outlook appeared uncertain.

The aides concluded that despite Mrs. Clinton’s popularity, the move would not offer a significant enough political boost to Mr. Obama to justify such a radical move, according to a newly published account of the 2012 race.

The idea of replacing Mr. Biden with Mrs. Clinton had long been rumored, but the journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, in their new book, “Double Down,” provide a detailed description of the effort inside the senior circle of Obama advisers. It was pushed by the chief of staff at the time, William M. Daley, despite the close personal rapport Mr. Daley had developed with Mr. Biden, a fellow Irish Catholic and veteran of Washington politics.

“When the research came back near the end of the year, it suggested that adding Clinton to the ticket wouldn’t materially improve Obama’s odds,” the authors write in their sequel to “Game Change,” which chronicled the 2008 campaign. “Biden had dodged a bullet he never saw coming — and never would know anything about, if the Obamans could keep a secret.”

Daley says the idea came up because Obama was in “awful shape” in the fall of 2011, which … is true, when looking at the Gallup daily averages.  In the September-October 2011 period, Obama flirted with below-40 ratings before picking back up toward the end of October.  That’s hardly re-elect territory for any incumbent, let alone a President who had just taken a shellacking in the midterms less than a year earlier.

However, a couple of points strike me on this tale.  First, Bill Daley wasn’t a big campaign mover and shaker; he was running the West Wing, while Obama’s political team ran the campaign.  Even if Daley passionately believed in making a change (which the Times’ reporting doesn’t really support), how much draw would Daley have had with David Plouffe, Jim Messina, and David Axelrod?  Second, Carney’s right that modern campaigns test everything, no matter how minor, and testing something doesn’t mean it’s under serious consideration. It could be used to shut up an annoying aide insisting on a strategy no one likes, for instance.

Third, though, does anyone think Obama would fire Biden? Heck, he’s got plenty of reasons for firing Kathleen Sebelius on both politics and competence in her work, and she’d doing a lot more damage to Obama than Biden ever did.  She’s still around, mainly because Obama doesn’t want to explain his mistakes.  Had he dropped Biden, there would have been no end to demands for explanations, especially since Biden still inexplicably has ambitions of his own.

I’m not buying it, and as it turns out, Daley wasn’t trying to sell it, either:

CBS News contributor Bill Daley was the president’s chief of staff at that time. He said he did ask aides to look into the idea of replacing Biden with Clinton but called it all an “over-hype” on the issue that has come with the book’s release.

“CBS This Morning” co-host Charlie Rose pointed out this quote from the book, which pertains to Daley: “The top echelon of Obamaworld had, in fact, been discussing the wisdom of replacing Biden with Hillary, that, more than discussing it, they had been exploring it furtively and obliquely in the campaign’s polling and focus groups and that Daley himself had been the most vocal proponent of looking into the merits of the idea.”

Responding to that passage, Daley said, “One of the jobs of chief of staff is to recommend lots of things outside the box and to look at things, but not for a moment was there a serious discussion or a belief that Joe Biden should be replaced, period.[“]