Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe yesterday confidently declaring that former President Bill Clinton will be a fixture on the campaign trail this fall. His presence is expected to limit the damage done to the Democrats’ congressional majorities in the midterm elections.
Joe Scarborough said that Clinton has “the Midas touch,” narrowly saving Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) from defeat in Arkansas and delivering the special election in PA-12 to replace the seat John Murtha held to Democrat Mark Critz. While it is clear that Clinton has a commanding authority on the trail, it is not certain whether the former president can be counted on to endorse the positions held by President Obama.
McAuliffe said that Clinton “will do anything he can to help Democrats win elections.” But can the White House count on the former president to stay on message? The unmistakable signal that Clinton has been sending in recent weeks is a clear and resounding “no.”
Clinton shocked the White House on June 29 when he endorsed Andrew Romanoff against appointed Democratic senator and Obama appointee Michael Bennet in Colorado. Clinton’s endorsement does not seem to have had a dramatic effect; a recent Denver Post survey has Bennet up by double digits. But backing a winner does not appear to be Clinton’s goal. Yesterday, he threw his support behind Thurbert Baker for governor of Georgia. Baker is running 44 points behind his challenger, former governor Roy Barnes.
Some see Clinton’s endorsement as a reward for Baker’s support of Hillary during the 2008 primaries. However, in combination with the Romanoff endorsement, a clearer motive could be attributed to clever positioning. The more former President Clinton appears to be indispensible to the Obama White House, the more he seems to want to go his own way.
The Obama administration’s midterm predicament is further compounded by the fact that the White House still does not have a uniform message going into the midterm elections. James Carville, former Clinton political strategist, was on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning confirming this problem. When asked about the Obama White House’s strategy to maintain the Democratic majority in the House, Carville offered a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of their three-pronged strategy as consisting entirely of the Holy Trinity. “Hope” may have been a competitive strategy in 2008, but it is lacking in 2010.
Yesterday, Jacob Lew, former Special Assistant to President Clinton from 1993 to 1994 and later Director of the Office of Budget Management from 1998 to 2001, was tapped by President Obama to replace outgoing OMB director Peter Orszag. Mr. Lew has a record of reigning in budget deficits and knows how to work with a Republican-dominated congress. Perhaps the Obama administration is hedging its bets in both directions.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.