By far the most interesting (and perhaps the most wildly speculative) palace intrigue among beltway insiders these days is not whether Rahm Emanuel will leave his position as White House chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago. Most pundits assume that move is a given.
Instead, conspiracy theorists are now whispering about the possibility of a “Hillary for Joe” trade for the 2012 presidential campaign. In other words, putting Clinton on the Obama ticket as vice president and giving Biden Clinton’s job as secretary of State. That move would certainly be a gamble, but absent a stunning economic recovery in the next 20 months, the gamble could be one worth taking.
The first question is: would Biden step down from the ticket and take the secretary of State (or Defense) job. Believe it or not, the answer to this is at least a maybe. I have written before that I personally like Biden, and his genuine compliments about George W. Bush on last night’s Colbert Report only further endeared him to me. Biden has consistently displayed a tone of civil political discourse sorely absent from today’s gotcha politics.
That being said, the tired maxim that “the vice president is a heartbeat away from having a heartbeat” still rings true. Although Biden was undoubtedly honored by Obama's selection of him, he can’t help but be a bit, well, frankly, bored. Unlike former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom most people knew called many of the shots inside the Bush White House, Biden is often sent on foreign trips and does not appear, at least to outsiders, to play as critical a role in the policymaking of the Obama administration. Biden is a savvy legislator who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and knows more than his share about engagement and diplomacy. Perhaps he would welcome the new challenge of becoming America’s ambassador to the world or the civilian leader of the military.
On to the second question--would Hillary do it? Here again, I believe the answer is at least a maybe and probably a yes. Clinton has proven herself to be a capable legislator and diplomat, who may offer fresh insight into a politically sagging White House. Furthermore, she may help draw in disaffected moderate Democratic and Independent voters who believe the Obama administration has grossly overplayed its liberal hand. There is the possibility, however craven it may appear, that Hillary would turn down the job if offered, secretly hope Obama loses in 2012, and begin preparing herself for a 2016 run. But then again, no one has ever accused the Clintons of being Machiavellian…
Of course, there is the possibility that such a gamble could backfire. Obama, already increasingly viewed by the American public as willing to do virtually anything to protect and promote his image, could be labeled a turncoat by offering the switch. Biden has been nothing if not a loyal lapdog to Obama and, other than the occasional foot-in-mouth moment, hasn’t done anything to damage the Obama presidency. Furthermore, some Americans still remain disenchanted with the Clinton brand, and may shun an Obama-Clinton ticket for that reason alone. Here, another political maxim when choosing a running mate--“do no harm”--could also be called into question.
Whether or not any of this will come to pass remains to be seen, but it sure makes a good conversation piece. At least for us political junkies.