Last week, Politico reported that John Podesta is under consideration to chair the yet-to-be-announced Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE presidential campaign. Podesta certainly has all of the qualifications and connections, but they may be pegging him for the wrong job. For several reasons, Podesta would make a better chair of transition planning than of the campaign.
Of course, it sounds foolish to even begin speculating about a transition that’s even further away than the campaign, but planning starts long before Election Day. Advisers to George W. Bush began quietly planning in 1999, prior to securing his nomination, and new regulations make it easier for transition officials to gain the security clearances necessary to insure a safe and speedy transition of power. Partisan critics will cry "drape measuring!" and presumptuousness, but smart candidates know that it's naive and dangerous to wait until the 11 weeks between the election and inauguration to start thinking about complex personnel decisions, reorganizing the vast federal bureaucracy and how campaign pronouncements could be implemented.
Given the gravity of transition planning, Podesta is an obvious choice.
First, if Clinton decides to run, she'll likely face only limited competition to win the Democratic Party's nomination. Unlike the Republicans, the fierce public campaign for the Democrats will not get going until much later in cycle. While considerable fundraising and strategizing is likely already underway, the real heavy lifting for Clinton's campaign won't begin for a while, so Podesta's time might be wasted.
Second, Podesta was already hired for the job. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had Podesta beginning to plan for her administration from his perch at the Center for American Progress. When Clinton dropped out, Podesta took on the role for President Obama, co-chairing the much lauded Obama/Biden transition team. This experience would matter a lot for the couple that never forgets. Recall that over 20 years ago, the Bill Clinton transition in 1992 was criticized for the slow pace of appointing White House staff and mistakes in vetting several Cabinet nominees. Podesta's 2008 experience would prevent this from happening again.
Finally, Podesta is clearly a creature of Washington, but his distinguished career suggests his heart is in policy, not politics. He worked as White House chief of staff at the end of President Clinton's second term and now serves as a counselor to Obama on climate change and energy policy. Podesta is an idea wonk and campaigns are where complex ideas go to die.
There is an old adage that "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose." It may be the case that you transition plan in secret, but the requisite discretion of transition planning doesn't diminish the importance of the work. John Podesta likely knows as much as anyone about how the White House and the federal bureaucracy function. He's the best-positioned adviser to Hillary Clinton to take on that responsibility in advance of 2016 ... if she runs.
Brown is an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He is the author of Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition (Routledge, 2012).