A Clinton-Obama ticket?

I discuss this possibility in a new column for the Financial Times.

Bill Clinton’s recent claim that a Clinton-Obama ticket would be unstoppable...was an extremely shrewd political manoeuvre. It asserts a presumption, nothing if not bold, that Mrs Clinton is still the senior partner. It nominates Mr Obama as the Democrats’ presidential candidate in 2016 – and he is young enough for that to make sense. And it issues a summons, cynical as this may be coming from the Clintons, to party unity. This way, the Clinton campaign is saying, the party can come together, front both its favourite candidates (two for the price of one, three if you count Bill) and maximise its general election prospects.

If you were a superdelegate, this might seem an attractive proposal and it is likely to become more so as the weeks go by. To deny the superdelegates this possible escape from their dilemma, Mr Obama had to squash the idea flat and he has failed to do it. His instant response to Mr Clinton’s overture was to say such talk was “premature” – exactly what his opponent hoped he would say.

Shortly after, he mocked the offer by reminding the party that he was still the leader both in elected delegates and votes (it is telling that he had to do that) and by accusing the Clinton team of inconsistency – how can they say he is not ready to be commander-in-chief and yet that he would be a good vice-president? Fine, but that was a rhetorical rejoinder, not a decisive rejection.

As long as this possibility is entertained, it puts Mr Obama at a disadvantage. Paradoxically, it licenses Mrs Clinton to persist with her attacks. “It’s nothing personal. I’ve said I’m willing to have the man as my vice-president: all he needs is a bit more experience.” As the fight gets fiercer, the prospect of a negotiated settlement will seem all the sweeter to the party’s leaders.

Also, it weakens Mr Obama’s resolve by giving him an acceptable way to fail. This contest is all or nothing for Mrs Clinton – nobody even needs to ask whether she would be willing to accept the vice-president slot. Mr Obama will have other chances to be president and in low moments he may feel there are worse things in the meantime than being vice-president. Most important, it gives the Clinton campaign a chance to claim the high ground with the superdelegates. “We are willing to put this feud behind us and unify the party. He is not.”

You can read the whole column here.

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