Typically, should White House public mole extraordinaire Bob Woodward openly chew on Washington rumor, there's a good chance it's talked about in circles to which the rest of us have little access. Such is the case with recent chatter over the future of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and where she lands in 2012.
Of course, we rarely expect Cabinet Members to stay on beyond the first term of a Presidency; the revolving doors are anticipated, and there really is nothing unusual to the constant stream of resignation announcements. But, what makes this particular case most peculiar is the talk of a position swap between the top diplomat and Vice President Joe Biden.
There are signs that Clinton - from that dynastic political family that just won't quit - is putting out feelers, quietly assessing what her political future will look like post-State. She denies that ... somewhat coyly at a recent forum. "We have a great relationship and I have absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than just dismissing these stories and moving on because we have no time," she says. "We have so much to do and I think both of us are very happy doing what we're doing."
But, she's not really saying: "no - that's just not happening."
The White House casually denies it, but nothing forceful. Nothing adamant. Nothing to give us the sense that they would mind.
Since any talk or fantasy football of a Clinton 2012 run is pure bullocks, the notion that Clinton could still play a central role in the Administration is very plausible and real. This is especially true considering that the President has very little patience with the unfamiliar or unreliable, keeping his circle of advisors tight and predictable. Clinton has performed well at State, carefully steering the nation's foreign policy apparatus with little drama.
But, what is clear is that the Administration would not allow open discussion about Clinton as a 2012 running mate unless it was actively seeking a dramatic game change. Getting the pundits to munch on it is an attempt at informal polling. Throw it out there, see how it's received.
Politically, it is no mystery that the President is in a bit of a political predicament, from a still-wanting economic recovery to recession-driven population shifts that make the Electoral College map much more complicated and challenging than in 2008. While Democrats brace for some inevitable losses in November, there are worries that 2012 may not be much better should current unemployment levels maintain as the new normal. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll offers more omens for an Obama re-election bid: working class, without-college-degree Whites favor Republican candidates over Democrats 58% to 36%. Whites with college degrees can't even offset that massive 22% difference since they are evenly split between the two parties.
Bringing in Clinton, Administration hacks surmise, could help adjust that landscape. Thoughts replay the 2008 primary and then Senator Clinton's (D-NY) strong showing with working class Whites in Rust-belt and Southwestern states. Perhaps Democrats could re-ignite that same energy. Having her husband stump around, since it's a family effort, would be an added bonus. President Clinton's presence on the campaign trail would surely offset the optical impact of a Black male/White woman electoral team on the American psyche.
Clinton's emergence as a running mate could also help match 2008 Black voter energy with the same in 2012, a bloc that was rather conflicted between her and Obama in the early days of the last primary. Congressional Black Caucus Members were even more conflicted, with many siding with their old friends from Arkansas till the very end.
Many in the African American political establishment yearn for a return to the days of Clinton, when their access to the White House and other resources was unparalleled. At times terse relations between the Obama Administration and the CBC have not abated, and the CBC's potential pick of a once pro-Hillary Member as its Chair could further inflame that. Clinton as VP could help ease those tensions.
While many might ask where that leaves Joe Biden, it's not unlikely that he'll go along with the new scenario, considering his initial desire and passion for the State gig in 2008. Retiring as the nation's foreign policy guru possibly suits Biden just fine - more so than task-forcing Administration priorities for the economic recovery. It shouldn't be a surprise if Biden himself is pushing the speculation, a sign that he wants a change of political scenery as much as the President needs it.
(originally appeared in Politic365.com)