It's puppetmaster Hillary for Vice President in 2004

Posted: Sep 24, 2003 12:00 AM

Bill and Hillary are behind Wesley Clark, 100 percent. Bill Clinton calls Clark, along with Hillary, one of the Democratic Party's "two stars." Clinton lackey Rep. Charles Rangel has endorsed Clark -- with Hillary's permission. The Clinton campaign staff is working for Clark. Clark announced his presidential ambitions in Little Rock, the Clinton fiefdom.

Something fishy is going on. The Clintons are never politically altruistic, especially when it's Hillary's future on the line.

Why would the Clintons back Clark? It doesn't make much sense. After all, 2008, not 2004, is Hillary's year. Hillary should have been overjoyed that Howard Dean was leaving the other eight Democratic dwarves in the dust. Dean had no chance of winning a general election. There would be no Democratic incumbent to fight in 2008. Hillary could snatch the 2008 nomination with one hand tied behind her back.

But if Clark wins the nomination, he could pose as a moderate and actually win, nullifying all of Hillary's aspirations before they get off the ground. Hillary should have opposed a Clark campaign.

But she doesn't. Which means that Hillary wants in on 2004. Why? Not because unemployment is high. Not because Iraqi rebuilding is difficult. Not because Bush is vulnerable.

Hillary wants in on 2004 for one reason and one reason only: Rudy Giuliani. Hillary has to run for re-election to the Senate in 2006. Giuliani is the obvious choice for a candidate to oppose her. And Hillary knows that if she goes up against Giuliani, she will get her head handed to her on a silver platter. Polls show that if Giuliani challenges Hillary, Hillary will lose by a whopping 17 percent margin, 57-40. Hillary can't afford to wait until 2008. She could be out of a job in 2006. Her political career could be over.

So Hillary has to be on the 2004 ticket. That's why Hillary and Bill are backing Wesley Clark. They want Clark to win the nomination in a landslide. To that end, they've stacked Clark's campaign with former Clinton cronies. They've made it clear that the general is their man. Here's the quid pro quo: They want Hillary to get the vice presidential slot on Clark's 2004 ticket.

The Clintons are not looking for a Hillary presidential campaign in 2004. They don't believe Hillary can win in 2004. If the Clintons believed that, they never would have been suckered into making hard-and-fast promises about the 2004 presidential election. The Clintons have seen the polls showing that in a head-to-head matchup, Bush would slap Hillary down. And that's even with Bush reeling from a weakened economy and public scrutiny about the Iraq war. The Gen. Clark gambit is not designed to shoehorn Hillary into the presidential nomination.

No, the Clintons want Hillary in the second slot. If her ticket loses, she can claim that it was Clark, not she, who lost the election. Her political career will not be over. A former vice-presidential nominee still carries weight in the Democratic Party. Edmund Muskie was the early Democratic front-runner in 1972 after running with Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 election, but his running mate, Walter Mondale, became the presidential nominee in 1984. Joe Lieberman still carries some weight in the Democratic Party despite his 2000 loss. Hillary's political future will be safe even if a Clark-Hillary ticket goes down in flames.

If her ticket wins, Hillary can wait until 2012 to be president. Another four years won't make a difference. After eight years of gathering her forces around her, a Hillary campaign in 2012 would make a Saddam Hussein election campaign look like a Libertarian Party presidential run.

For the Clintons, politics revolves around maximizing personal power while enduring only slight political risk. Hillary isn't likely to jump the gun and run in 2004 as president. She can't afford to wait until 2008 and run for president then because Rudy Giuliani could put her out of politics in 2006. The only way to assure her political future is to put her name on the 2004 ticket -- as vice president. Whether her ticket wins or loses in 2004, Hillary wins as long as she's in the No. 2 slot. For the Clintons, that's all that matters.