Given enough exposure to political punditry, you are going to hear a lot of extremely stupid ideas bandied about -- in fact, you may never hear an intelligent one. But in the run-up to 2012, there was no idea that came anywhere as close to matching the precious, gossamer inanity as the "Obama should swap out Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton on the ticket idea." This was a double-plus-stupid idea, that's going to get new traction all up and down the Sunday show telecasts tomorrow, because it's in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's GAME CHANGE 2: POOP BOOGIE book.
None of this is to say that Clinton doesn't have virtues that would make her an attractive vice presidential candidate, nor is it to suggest that her virtues in that regard may or may not be superior to those of Biden. But there is no universe in which such a switch gets made where it doesn't get covered as "Obama campaign makes a desperate move" and his presidential campaign emerges with anything other than the stench of failure attached to it.
Jeff Greenfield -- blessings upon him -- corralled enough succinct logic to convince anyone capable of cognition that the idea was well beyond moronic back in May 2012. (This was still getting discussed as a real notion in May of 2012. May of 2012!) Greenfield notes that in "more-or-less modern times," vice presidents had been dumped in three instances (FDR dumping John Nance Garner for Henry Wallace and Wallace for Harry Truman; Gerald Ford ditching Nelson Rockefeller), the common thread of each dumping being the fact that the vice president in question had become "anathema to a significant segment of his party." For context, here are some Veeps that didn't quite make it to "anathema": Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle.
Greenfield also gets at the real problem with this weird "swap Biden for Hillary" plan:
Imagine the press conference where President Obama has to explain his decision to replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton. It is, to put it mildly, not likely that the press will accept at face value a Biden announcement that he has decided to step down to run Amtrak, or to retire to his beloved Scranton, Pa.
So what would the president say? That he made a mistake the first time? That he is tired of clicking on yet another website to read, “Biden later explained ...”?
The one thing he could not say is what everyone with a pulse will believe: "I’ve concluded that my re-election will be much more likely if I run with Hillary Clinton.”
So, who was the pulse-bereft person that believed it? Well, according to GAME CHANGE 2: THE CHANGENING, it was presidential Chief of Staff Bill Daley -- and Daley has, subsequently, confirmed his involvement:
The more explosive details -- nuclear, actually -- were that 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 exponent of looking into the merits of the idea.
I suspect, in fact, that Daley was probably the only vocal exponent of the idea, since Daley is the only name you need to have on hand to qualify for "top echelon" and you can have both a "furtive" and "oblique" discussion involving one guy with an idiotic idea and a bunch of people telling him, furtively and obliquely, that he's an idiot. For what it's worth, the rest of the "top echelon" are laughing out loud at the idea on Twitter today:
.@PressSec on Biden for HRC swap: "Had anyone brought that idea too [POTUS] he would have laughed that out of the room."
— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) Nov. 1, 2013
Never any - any - consideration of VP/HRC switch. Not even entertained by the only person who mattered. Or most of us. Back to Halloween.
— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) Oct. 31, 2013
Let me be clear: VP-HRC switch never considered by POTUS or anyone who mattered in the campaign. #sillyseason
— Jim Messina (@Messina2012) Nov. 1, 2013
Daley, in confirming this story, pointedly states that he's the only person who considered the idea, and that those discussions that stemmed from his considerations never rose to the level of seriousness, because how could they? Per CNN's Leigh Ann Caldwell:
"Not for a moment was there a serious discussion or a belief that Joe Biden should be replaced, period," said Daley, a CBS contributor.
Like Carney said, Daley admitted that it was something he considered and that polling and research were done to explore the possibility because it was his job to "look outside the box."
"But in 2011," Daley said, "it was a very difficult political year, and so my sense was we ought to look at everything here because this is a very -- it was a very difficult period, politically."
Ultimately, the result of the Daley's polling confirmed what any sentient being could have told him for a quarter of the price -- that making the switch would not "materially improve Obama's odds."
Beyond Daley's involvement in the matter, GAME CHANGE 2: FOLIE A DEUX reports that any other mention of the Hillary-Biden switcheroo was, essentially, "gossip" that received "a dash of credibility and a hefty dose of buzz" because it was "first conveyed by Bob Woodward." And who was Woodward's source? Here's what he said on CNN at the time:
"It's on the table," veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward told CNN's John King in an interview Tuesday on John King, USA. "Some of Hillary Clinton's advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012."
Ryan Grim and I didn't include "some of Hillary Clinton's advisers" on our guide to anonymous sources because that could literally be anybody -- Clinton's top confidant or a hopeless hanger-on who knows that if there's a free hit to be had, it's with the buzz-manic Woodward. Halperin and Heilemann don't pin it down either -- they state in the book that the "hearsay" came from either "[Hillary Clinton's] staff" or "outside advisers" or "the denizens of Greater Clintonia." So it literally could have been from anyone Clinton ever knew at any time in her life.
Outside of that, a lot of people in Washington heard about this idea being floated because they were at cocktail parties where Sally Quinn floated the idea. That's literally all you need to generate a "some Washington insiders are saying" story.
At any rate, there is your button on the whole "Hillary-Biden switch" story: it was a dumb idea that was mainly the product of idle chatter and breathless gossip, but Bill Daley took it seriously for a hot minute only to discover that doing so netted him nothing more than a pointless expenditure of time and spirit.
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