Bill Clinton may have saved Barack Obama’s bacon in 2012, but we’ve barely heard a peep from him during his wife’s presidential campaign. Just as the former president’s speech upstaged the current president’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Bill’s remarks in Philadelphia are near certain to overshadow Hillary’s.
Nevertheless, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton might actually be wise to keep Bill off the trail going forward, or at least limit him – and not because she doesn’t want to share the spotlight. He was a staple in her failed 2008 primary campaign, thus Obama essentially defeated both Clintons. For all we know, Obama might have beaten Hillary by more in 2008 had Bill not been her surrogate-in-chief. However, history tells us that a Clinton boost is the exception rather than the rule.
The phrase “Clinton fatigue,” hasn’t been used prominently since 2000, which I write about in my new book, “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections.”
In 2000, the Republicans held their convention in the same city Democrats are gathering this year. The Philly convention in 2016 will be all about Hillary. The last Philly convention was all about Bill, as I wrote:
Speaker after speaker at the Philadelphia convention referred to the “Clinton-Gore administration” and Vice Presidential nominee Dick Cheney gave a memorable acceptance speech: “Mr. Gore will try to separate himself from his leader’s shadow, but somehow we will never see one without thinking of the other.
During his speech accepting his party’s nomination, George W. Bush acknowledged the good economy, but told the convention, “Instead of seizing this moment, the Clinton-Gore administration has squandered it.”
Al Gore had not yet chosen a running mate, but Time wrote, “Bush made the decision for him. He picked Bill Clinton.”
Donald Trump and supporters have already dealt a devastating blow to the Clinton machine, saying Hillary was an “enabler” for Bill’s treatment of women over the decades of their political rise – which has made it difficult to attack Trump’s comments about women. That is particularly true since women on the receiving end of the Clinton attacks have spoken out this year. That in itself could make Bill Clinton nearly as much a liability for his wife in 2016 as he was for his vice president in 2000, as “Tainted by Suspicion,” further explains:
Gore’s team had to address the Clinton fatigue matter and did so with its choice of moderate Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to serve as vice president. Lieberman was the first Democrat in 1998 to speak out against Clinton on the Senate floor, saying: “Such behavior is not just inappropriate, it is immoral and it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children.”
This 1998 speech assured his place on the Democratic ticket two years later. As The Wall Street Journal said: “Al Gore has picked someone as far away from his president as he could go and still stay within his own party. … Now, with his Lieberman selection, Mr. Gore is all but admitting that his boss could cost him the election.”
Trump has high negatives too, and might well be one of the few Republicans Hillary could beat. However, it seems unlikely the other contenders would have taken on Bill’s past as head on as Trump has, which has so far muted a “war on women” campaign from Democrats.
But as likable as we always hear Bill is compared to his wife, his campaigning and endorsement record has been less than stellar – to be charitable. In 2006, he interestingly campaigned for Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut’s Democratic Senate primary, which Lieberman lost (though he won the general as a third party candidate without Clinton’s blessing). Bill stumped for California Gov. Gray Davis in the 2003 recall election, for New York Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer in 2005, for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, Allison Grimes in the 2014 Kentucky Senate race, and others.
That’s not to say he should be blamed for the losses. But, make no mistake, Bill Clinton would not intervene in a race that was not winnable. He endorsed some winners along the way, like Barak Obama, who would have won without hin in 2008.
So props to the former president for assisting Obama in 2012, a year when American swing voters were looking for an excuse to vote for the more likable Obama over the bland Mitt Romney, despite the condition of the country. Bill Clinton provided that excuse, using his own credibility on the economy to argue no one could have fixed this mess in four years. But claiming he has a Midas touch ignores his endorsement record for congressional candidates in 2012 and other years.
Hillary’s numbers have been sliding since FBI Director James Comey cleared her in the email scandal, because it doesn’t pass the public’s smell test. Bill might well have been likable enough skate in the court of public opinion. But even though the public didn’t want to see him removed from office over the Lewinsky scandal, they didn’t approve of him outside his handling of the economy.
The couple’s reputation for unethical behavior is embedded in the American conscious. There could likely be enough anti-Trump sentiment to win in November. But Clinton fatigue is still strong and many voters likely aren’t sure they want to endure this in the White House again.