American voters will want a candidate in 2016, Barack Obama told George Stephanopoulos yesterday on ABC’s This Week, that “doesn’t have as much mileage as me.” They’ll want that “new-car smell” from their next president, Obama said — while ostensibly defending Hillary Clinton as a potential Democratic nominee for 2016. That’s practically the argument against Hillary, though, which Obama either doesn’t realize or doesn’t mind floating, for some reason:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Clinton tweeted out for support for your executive action last night and it just made me think of it. How– how’s this gonna work over the next– couple years, your relationship with the secretary, as it certainly appears she’s planning on running for president. Will you coordinate? Does she have your blessing to kind of separate when she needs to?
OBAMA: It– well, she hasn’t announced so I don’t wanna jump the gun. I can tell you a couple things. Number one, she was an outstanding secretary of State. Number two, she’s a friend.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You still talk pretty regularly?
OBAMA: We do. Number three– I think– she– and– and a number of other– possible Democratic candidates, would be terrific presidents–
STEPHANOPOULOS: A number of other?
OBAMA: And I am very interested in making sure that– I’ve got a Democratic successor. So I’m gonna do everything I can, obviously, to make sure that– whoever the nominee is is successful. If she decides to run, I think she will be a formidable candidate and I think she’d be a great president.
OBAMA: And she’s not gonna agree with me on– on everything. And, you know, one of the benefits of– running for president is you can stake out your own positions. You’re– and– and have– a clean slate. A fresh start. You know, when you’ve been president for six years you– you know, you’ve got some dings and– (CHUCKLE) you know and– and–
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you don’t mind absorbing a few more if that’s–
STEPHANOPOULOS: –what it takes?
OBAMA: You know, I think– I think the American people, you know, they’re gonna want– you know, that new car smell. (LAUGHTER) You know, their own– they– they wanna drive somethin’ off the lot that– that doesn’t have as– as much mileage as me.
As it happens, I agree. After eight years of Obama and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, voters will want something very different in 2016. One cannot argue that Clinton’s four years as Secretary of State in Obama’s administration counts as a plus for her presidential ambitions while at the same time claiming that she represents significant change — especially from Obama’s disastrous foreign policy. The same “dings” that plague Obama will also plague Hillary, because she’s a big part of them.
As for the idea that she represents a fresh start, well, it’s difficult to stifle laughter at that notion. Chris Cillizza accidentally underscores the problem in his explainer of Obama’s comments:
Even back in 2008, Clinton had, to borrow Obama’s phrase, “some dings.” The entire reason Obama was able to reverse course and enter the race after denying interest was because of Clinton’s vote in support of the use of force resolution in Iraq — and his opposition to it (although not while a member of the Senate.) Since at least 1992, Hillary Clinton has been an active part of the national (and international) political debate. From her husband’s failed attempt to overall the health care system in the early 1990s to her decisions made as Secretary of State earlier this decade, Clinton’s record is soooooooo long.
This is, in part, why she is such a giant favorite in a Democratic primary and, to a lesser extent, the general election in 2016. She is incredibly well known and, generally, well liked by the electorate. It feels like she has always been with us. There’s a sense of reassurance in Clinton; she has proven, over a very long period of time, that she is up to the very difficult job of being president. That sense that she can “do” the job is even more important because a majority of Americans now believe that Obama — with that relatively scant experience — is simply not up to the job.
The flipside of that strength, however, is that Clinton will struggle to cast herself as “new” in any meaningful way. To do so would be to run against — or at least downplay — all of the experience that makes her appealing to large swaths of voters. The problem for Clinton is this: What would you be surprised or intrigued to learn about her right now? Anything? It’s hard to imagine.
I’d challenge Chris’ assumption that there is an assumption that she’s up to the job of being President. She’s had some high favorable polling, but that was personal polling, and it plummeted during her public book tour. And that was before Obama’s polling took its deep dive this summer, too. No one assumes she’s up to being President, any more than they assumed it in 2008.
Besides, as Chris notes, Hillary 2016 won’t have a new car smell; it will have a distinct odor of nostalgia and heavy mileage. The Clintons will have been around Washington DC for almost a quarter-century by 2016, four of which will have been spent in the deeply unpopular Obama administration. Hillary won’t be new; she’ll be continuity with a status quo that just got one of the biggest midterm election rejections in history. Democrats had better start looking on the lot for a newer model stat.