The Clintons and the Obamas are the Hatfields and McCoys of the Democratic Party.
These two powerful political clans have been at war with each other ever since the bruising 2008 presidential primary campaign between Hillary and Barack Obama. At one point last year things got so nasty between the Clintons and Obamas that, as I reported in my book The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, Bill actually urged Hillary to challenge Obama for the party’s 2012 presidential nomination.
Yet despite their ongoing tribal feud, Bill has put his personal feelings about Obama aside during this presidential campaign year and adopted a policy of political expediency.
And so we have seen Bill, looking gray, lean and haggard, traveling tirelessly all over America, campaigning on behalf of his erstwhile foe, Barack Obama. This week he appeared at three Obama campaign fundraisers in New York City, where he has strong ties to wealthy Wall Street donors.
Does this mean that the political Hatfields and McCoys have kissed and made up?
Don’t count on it.
Everything Bill is doing in 2012 is part of a carefully worked out plan for the presidential campaign of 2016, which he believes will begin in earnest the day after next November’s election. According to several of his political confidants with whom I have spoken, Bill has been refining a two-part strategy to make Hillary president. If one part of the plan doesn’t work, the second part will automatically click into place.
In part one, Hillary would accept the vice presidential nomination if Obama dumped Joe Biden.
“Bill has argued with Hillary that running with Obama as vice president would automatically put her ahead of the Democratic pack in 2016,” one of Bill and Hillary’s friends told me. “The Clintons wouldn’t have to fight so hard for the presidential nomination. They’d save themselves a great amount of time, money, and effort, and they’d avoid a bruising campaign.
“But Hillary has made it plain to Bill that she isn’t interested,” this friend continues. “She’s told Bill, ‘I’ve already been vice president—with you. And how would it help me if I ran with Obama and he lost?’ ”
The second part of Bill’s strategy is to prove that, whatever his negative feelings about Obama and the president’s ineffective performance, the Clintons are true-blue Democrats and are doing everything in their power to get Obama reelected in 2012.
Come 2016, the Clintons expect to be repaid for this display of loyalty by getting the backing of the party’s honchos.
The drumbeat for Hillary has already begun. Paul Begala, Nancy Pelosi, and Ed Rendell—all Democratic bigwigs with ties to Bill Clinton—have been talking up the idea of Hillary for president in 2016. And they all seem to be reading from the same script. Hillary, this version goes, is tired after four years as secretary of state and doesn’t want to assume the heavy burden of running for president. But the country needs her and she must be convinced to change her mind.
“I believe that when [Hillary] gets some rest and has a chance to reflect on what she wants, the challenges facing the country will be too great for her to resist and she will change her mind and run,” Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, has written.
In fact, Bill has already begun to interview and line up managers for Hillary’s 2016 campaign in such key swing states as Florida and Iowa. And has put out word to wealthy Democratic donors that he is looking to lease a 757 jet to be Hillary’s campaign plane.
And what about Hillary herself? Where does she really stand on 2016?
“Hillary,” says one of her closest friends and advisers, “has the fire in the belly to be president. She’s not doing anything to stop Bill from making his exploratory moves for 2016. She’s up for it and ready to go.”
Edward Klein's new book "The Amateur" has been a #1 New York Times best seller for three consecutive weeks.