The Bill Factor

Ben Jacobs calls Bill Clinton’s speech “the most memorable moment” of the pro-Hillary event in Iowa:

Bill Clinton lit into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is facing a tough reelection bid in Kentucky. Clinton trotted out a new attack line, slamming McConnell for saying the worst day of his political career was when President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation. “I was profoundly sad,” Clinton said of McConnell’s remarks. “When I look back on my life in politics, after all those decades and fights and all those campaigns, if the worst thing that ever happened to me was an attempt to limit black bag contributions?” Why not 9/11, the farm crisis, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the ’80s, or the loss of coal mining jobs in Kentucky? Clinton suggested.

He’s such a talented politician – and Hillary such an awkward one – that their joint appearances may well be a mixed blessing in their coming juggernaut back to power. Ira Stoll suspects that “Bill Clinton will surely find a way, once the midterm elections and the Democratic primary is over, to tone down the partisan leftism and reach out to more centrist and independent voters”:

As he confided to the Steak Fry audience, a secret of political message making is that “Without being dishonest, you want to appeal to as many people as you can.” After eight years of Obama, that may be a refreshing change. Or it may be that voters in 2016 feel the way they did back in 2008 — they’ve had enough of the Clintons and are ready for someone new.

But Chait questions Bubba’s political genius:

The idea that Bill Clinton possesses unique political talent has been disseminated both by Clinton and his enemies for years. It appeals to both of them, for different reasons. Conservatives are happy to attribute his success to Clinton’s mystical black magic, rather than to any shortcomings of their own agenda. And Clinton himself has every incentive to attribute the credit for his victories to his own unique skills, which just so happen to be available to his party once again if it returns the Clinton family to the top of the ticket. …

Clinton does give a good speech, and he does retain more pull than Barack Obama or most Democrats with marginal Democratic constituencies. He also follows politics closely. Beyond that, is there any actual reason to believe the story of Clinton as political impresario is anything more than a mutually convenient myth?

Chait takes a few well-deserved whacks at the press’s supine adoration of the guy, but I think he sells Clinton short. Clinton made the Democratic party electable again in 1992, and he won re-election handily. He gave the best speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention, in favor of Obama. He’s mesmerizing in person – so much so I recommend never getting near him. And I can’t help feeling that he still tends to over-shadow his wife in joint public appearances. He is a former president, after all, and the dynamics of a former president’s wife running for the presidency is a new thing in American politics (even though it has been common in some developing countries). Cassidy likewise views Bill as both a potential asset and liability:

Bill’s presence should help his wife at least somewhat. According to Jordan Ragusa, a data analyst at the Rule 22 blog, “when Bill’s approval rating increases by 1 unit, Hillary’s approval increases by just under 1/2 in the same direction.” I’m not sure how this finding can be reconciled with the recent sharp decline in Hillary’s numbers. But given the halo that now surrounds the late nineteen-nineties, a period of peace and prosperity, it only makes sense for Hillary’s campaign to remind voters of Bill. One of his adages from 1992 might go over better now than it did back then: when you elect a Clinton, you get “two for the price of one.”

The danger for Hillary’s campaign is that her husband’s presence becomes an unwelcome diversion—a story that some parts of the media are already running with.

And the beat goes on …