Bill Clinton’s long game

     

    Oval Office alums usually choose a life of relative quietude. Ronald Reagan stayed home with Nancy, Jerry Ford played a lot of golf, Jimmy Carter built a lot of houses, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson suffered in exile, George W. Bush virtually disappeared…But Bill Clinton? No way. Nothing seems to slow down the big dawg. No presidential retiree since Theodore Roosevelt has been so peripatetic on the campaign trail, and it’s not just because he loves the limelight. He’s thinking long term. He’s really out there to nurture and sustain the Clinton brand – plowing fresh ground for Hillary, just in case she decides to seek the top job in 2016.For starters, he wants everyone to know that the Clintons are still in the game, that there is a price to be paid for opposing them. Three times in recent weeks, Bill has intervened in Democratic congressional primaries; each time, he has sought to punish the candidate who failed to endorse Hillary in the 2008 presidential race – and reward the candidate who did.In central New Jersey, Democrats Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman are battling in a June primary. Bill has announced his support for Pascrell. Pascrell got the nod because he supported Hillary during the ’08 primaries. Rothman was out of luck because he endorsed Barack Obama.In southern California, Democrats Brad Sherman and Howard Berman are also jousting in a June congressional primary. Bill weighed in and put his thumb on the scale for Sherman. It just so happens that Sherman endorsed Hillary in ’08, whereas Berman went with Obama.In Pennsylvania, where Democrats Mark Critz and Jason Altmire fought it out in an April congressional primary, Critz got a late boost from Bill – winning narrowly, arguably because of Bill. Why the Critz endorsement? Because, four years ago, Critz was a key aide to pro-Hillary congressman John Murtha. And because Altmire refused to support her in the Pennsylvania primary.Also in Pennsylvania, Bill took sides in the Democratic primary for state attorney general. He chose Kathleen Kane, a former prosecutor from Lackawanna County, over Patrick Murphy, a former congressman from Bucks County. By now you know the reason. Kane had endorsed Hillary during the ’08 Pennsylvania primary; Murphy was an early ’08 booster for Obama. Indeed, Obama strategist David Axelrod touted Murphy in the AG contest. Bill’s candidate won it.So you can call this Bill’s Revenge Tour. He’s a bit like Billy Howard, the young guy in Diner (a great movie) who goes around Baltimore methodically punching out the kids who had dissed him during a long-ago baseball game. But politicians frequently do that sort of thing, just to end the message that they’re still players. Punish your enemies and reward your friends – which is what Bill did last month when he stumped in Texas for Democratic congressman Silvestre Reyes. Reyes didn’t even have a serious primary opponent, but Bill showed up nevertheless, to stand with a guy who had served as a regional Hillary co-chair in 2008.But the main event this year is the presidential race. Bill will be stumping far and wide for Obama’s re-election, especially among voters (such as blue-collar whites) who like the alum a lot more than they like the incumbent. Bill and Obama are not pals – they dissed each other frequently during the ’08 primaries, and thin-skinned politicians with high self-regard never forget past insults – but this year each has great use for the other. Obama can get some cover from a popular ex-president, and Bill can rack up some serious IOUs for 2016.He’s trying to maximize Hillary’s future options. If Obama wins re-election with Bill’s help, he’ll owe Bill big time. And if Hillary were to opt for another White House bid, Bill would seek to cash in that debt – by compelling Obama to endorse Hillary; or, at minimum, by persuading Obama to stay neutral in the event that Vice President Biden jumps in.There once was a national disease called “Clinton fatigue.” Not so anymore. Bill, renouncing the quiet life of White House retiree, is playing the long game. The Fleetwood Mac song he adopted in 1992 – “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” – remains his mantra.——-

    Quote of the day, courtesy of Bettina Inclin, the national GOP’s director of Hispanic outreach. (There’s a thankless job.) Referring to Mitt Romney, she said: “My understanding is that he is still deciding what his position on immigration is.”

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    Twenty five years ago today, Democratic frontrunner Gary Hart quit the presidential race – having been caught in a sex scandal that changed the rules of political coverage. I did a story about it for Smithsonian magazine.

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    If you’re in Philadelphia during the May 24 lunch hour, come to the Free Library auditorium. I’ll be doing a one-on-one conversation with Colin Powell. Tickets are available here. The word is, they’re going fast – which is no surprise, given the general’s abiding popularity.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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