The authors of Game Change, the most celebrated presidential campaign diary since Theodore H. White's The Making of the President, are issuing the paperback version of the best seller this week that includes a new afterword with a stunning prediction: Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely fight each other to succeed Obama in 2016.
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin note that Clinton and Biden will be about the same age as Sen. John McCain when he ran in 2008, still young enough to mount a bruising campaign. And even if they both weigh exiting political life with Obama, either if he loses his reelection in 2012 or after a second term, the reality is that they will seriously consider one last try for the job they've always wanted.
"Whether Obama wins or loses in his reelection bid, either Biden or Clinton—or the two of them—will find the idea of taking one last shot at the big prize irresistible," they write in the new eight-page afterword.
The prediction comes as Washington is abuzz with rumors that Biden and Clinton will switch jobs as President Obama scrambles to rebuild his 2008 coalition that's soured on his presidency. Insiders say there is little truth to the rumors.
The authors give both kudos for their performances so far. Clinton, they say, has "played the loyal soldier in public and in private." They say that the former first lady and New York senator is best position to succeed Obama. They also applaud former Bill Clinton for staying out of the spotlight, something Hillary worried about. "His performance has turned out to be a little short of exemplary, almost entirely free of public outbursts and distractions," they write.
Biden gets credit for providing a relationship that "has arguably proved the most stable and productive of all." They say he has "emerged as one of the shrewdest, most popular, and hardest-working members of the administration."
As for the upcoming reelection, the authors acknowledge that Sarah Palin is the GOP's favorite right now, though they slap her as a lightweight. Since the election, they write, "though Palin resisted immersing herself in the serious policy issues about which her lack of knowledge remains her greatest weakness if she aspires to the presidency, she has kept her hand in politics with cleverly timed endorsements and frequent flash communications to her fans through Twitter and Facebook. Even as polls have shown that majorities of Americans doubt her qualifications to serve in the Oval Office, she towers over every other Republican figure as a media magnet and someone who can rally the conservative base."
Then there's Obama, the star of the original Game Change. With him, Heilemann and Halperin find major flaws that they say will require the president to fix in a second game-changing moment if he is to succeed in his re-election bid. They cite four problems with the president.
First they say that he has "lapsed into an odd passivity, evincing a stubborn reluctance to engage with voters on a visceral, emotional level, and causing his supporters and detractors alike to wonder, 'What's wrong with this guy?'"
Second, they say Obama likes to perform only when the game is on the line. "Obama has struggled to calibrate his inner clock and rouse himself to palpable intensity and action."
Third, the authors say that Obama has erred in trusting in a tiny circle of advisers. "Obama should widen the circle, opening himself up to more contrary, and contrarian, counsel."
And fourth, they say Obama hasn't laid out a vision. "It has left him a worryingly indistinct figure, even among his supporters—with many on the left seeing him as a temporizing, compromising moderate, while many of those in the center perceive him as having pitched to the left."
Maybe worse, they note that despite his campaign call for an end to partisanship, Obama has "become a more divisive figure than even Clinton or Bush."