Clinton’s third-term dilemma

Clinton’s third-term dilemma
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonVirginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' MORE faces a unique dilemma on the 2016 campaign trail: How much to embrace President Obama, and how much to run away from him.

Obama remains a relatively popular figure, with a 51 percent approval rating from Gallup and a 90 percent approval rating among Democrats.


Yet public opinion on the Obama economic record is decidedly mixed. Sixty-five percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, according to the Real Clear Politics average, while 27 percent say the country is on the right track.

The polling and data can sometimes seem contradictory. Only 42 percent in an Associated Press poll last month described the U.S. economy as good, but two-thirds said their own households were doing well.

Obama can hardly wait to get on the campaign trail with Clinton, and the presumptive Democratic nominee is happy to have him. The two will campaign together for the first time this Thursday in Wisconsin, a state where Clinton will be favored this fall.

Yet Clinton has handled questions about the Obama economy with the care of a politician who can see downsides to fully embracing Obama.

In an interview Wednesday with Fox News’s Bret Baier, Clinton initially dodged questions about what she would do differently than Obama on the economy, turning to a well-worn campaign statement about how Obama hasn’t received enough credit for the economic recovery.

Pressed further on how a Clinton economic team might tread differently from Obama, Clinton cited infrastructure spending and expanding manufacturing jobs as two issues she’d focus on, while blaming congressional Republicans for holding up Obama’s efforts.

Clinton and Obama also have real differences — particularly on foreign policy, where Clinton has criticized the Iran nuclear deal and Obama’s handling of Syria.

Republicans believe that labeling Clinton as a third-term for Obama is a winning argument for their side.

Trump’s campaign motto of “Make America Great Again” pointedly sets up the Obama years as a disaster. And Republicans point to an excruciatingly slow recovery in arguing that voters hardly want four more years of Obama’s policies.

Gallup found that Trump has a ten-percentage-point edge over Clinton on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy — a good sign for the presumptive Republican nominee given the importance of the economy to voters. 

When Obama endorsed Clinton on Thursday, Trump seized on the connection.

“Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama—but nobody else does!” Trump tweeted.

Team Clinton’s confidence in allying itself with Obama is just as clear.

“Delete your account,” Clinton tweeted back in what became her most retweeteed tweet of the campaign.

Obama and Clinton talked frequently during the Democratic primary, and all signs point to a cooperative relationship going forward.

The two are trying to make history. No political party has won three consecutive presidential terms since President George H.W. Bush succeeded President Reagan in 1988.

Despite the victory, there were tensions between Bush and Reagan, who like Clinton and Obama had been primary rivals eight years earlier.

Reagan offered Bush a tepid endorsement after he clinched the GOP nomination in May. And while Bush campaigned to continue Regan’s legacy, his attempt to establish his own identity by calling for a “kinder, gentler nation” in his convention speech irked Reagan loyalists. 

In 1992, Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreOvernight Energy: Biden seeks to reassert US climate leadership | President to 'repeal or replace' Trump decision removing protections for Tongass | Administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Al Gore lobbied Biden to not scale back climate plans in infrastructure deal MORE refused Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFire-proofing forests is not possible Obama's presidential center may set modern record for length of delay Appeals court affirms North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional MORE’s help until late in the campaign due to the fallout from his sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton, who remained popular, desperately wanted to campaign for Gore and his supporters believe the vice president’s effort to distance himself ultimately doomed his campaign. 

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright called it “crazy” in a 2014 interview with the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

Clinton has handled questions about running for a third Obama term with care.

“I'm not running for my husband's third term, I'm not running for Obama's third term,” Clinton told late-night comic Stephen Colbert last fall. “I’m running for my first term, but I'm going to do what works.” 

The White House has also been careful to give Clinton space.

While Obama clearly wants a Clinton victory to protect his legacy and bolster his own political standing, they've stressed the Clinton campaign has the ultimate say on when and where the president will campaign. 

When asked Thursday if Obama wants four more years of his presidency, White House press secretary Josh Earnest replied, “no.”

He pointed out Clinton has distanced herself from Obama on some key issues, such as the conflict in Syria and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. 

Donald Zinman, an associate professor of political science at Grand Valley State University who wrote a book titled “The Heir Apparent Presidency,” believes it’s best for Clinton to stick with Obama, even if she has to take her lumps along the way. 

“It can send a confusing message to voters if a candidate who is closely aligned with the president says they are in fact very different from the president,” he said. 

“Trying to distance yourself from the current administration — I’m not sure how you would even do that at this point.”