Hil­lary’s fi­nally in for the 2016 elec­tion, but what role for Bill?


Hil­lary Clin­ton has put an end to spec­u­la­tion about one ques­tion: Yes, she’s run­ning for pres­i­dent. But that leaves an­other: What role has she in mind for her hus­band Bill?

The for­mer pres­i­dent is seen as a for­mi­da­ble cam­paigner and a po­ten­tial as­set to his wife’s op­er­a­tion. But would he out­shine her? And might his own bag­gage prove too much to carry?

And, while many vot­ers re­tain fond mem­o­ries of Bill’s 1990s terms as an era of U.S. eco­nomic strength and in­ter­na­tional pres­tige, the 2016 elec­tion will turn on vi­sions of the fu­ture.

Hil­lary’s Repub­li­can op­po­nents, in par­tic­u­lar the youth­ful 43-yearold Sen. Marco Ru­bio, are striv­ing to por­tray her pol­i­tics as a tired throw­back to the Baby Boomer gen­er­a­tion.

If Clin­ton wins she will be 69 when she takes of­fice, the same age as Ron­ald Rea­gan and more than two decades older than Bill or Barack Obama were at their in­au­gu­ra­tions.

Hav­ing a beam­ing Bill stand­ing be­side her can only re­mind vot­ers that Hil­lary has been a fix­ture of U.S. public life for 35 years, a re­spected fig­ure but not a blast of fresh air.

Obama beat Hil­lary in the 2008 Demo­cratic pri­mary run­ning as a fresh-faced can­di­date for hope and change — and Bill’s mal­adroit in­ter­ven­tions scarcely helped his wife.

Con­flict of In­ter­est

Many of the black vot­ers who flocked to Obama’s stan­dard were of­fended by Bill’s dis­missal of the chal­lenger’s suc­cess in South Caro- lina, with its large African-Amer­i­can elec­torate.

Out of of­fice, the Clin­ton fam­ily foun­da­tion is an as­set. The mul­ti­mil­lion dollar char­ity gives Bill, Hil­lary and daugh­ter Chelsea a states­man’s visibility on the global cir­cuit.

But Hil­lary stood down from the board on Sun­day af­ter she launched her run: the grants the fund re­ceived from for­eign gov­ern­ments carry the whiff of a con­flict of in­ter­est.

Both Clin­tons are well-used to prob­ing, even harsh, press cov­er­age, but the na­ture of the up­com­ing Demo­cratic pri­mary race threat­ens them with a new level of scru­tiny.

In the ab­sence of a cred­i­ble chal­lenger from within her own party, re­porters cov­er­ing her race will have one eye on Bill and an­other on a bar­rage of at­tacks from the Repub­li­can camp.

Hil­lary is no longer de­fined as a for­mer first lady. Since the cou­ple left the White House at the end of Bill’s sec­ond term she has be­come a lead­ing se­na­tor and diplo­mat in her own right.

And she has bris­tled when Bill’s some­times clumsy in­ter­ven­tions have over­shad­owed her own ef­forts, or cast her as in need of pro­tec­tion.

Last year, when Bill came to her de­fense over some ill-judged re­marks about her fi­nances, Hil­lary de­clared: “My hus­band was very sweet to­day, but I don’t need any­body to de­fend my record. I think my record speaks for it­self.”

Bill, while clearly keen to play a role, is aware of the unique threats he poses to his wife’s ef­fort.

When asked what po­si­tion he saw for him­self in the cam­paign, he laughed and af­fected mod­esty: “I’m a foot sol­dier in an army. I will do what I am in­structed to do.”

No-one in Wash­ing­ton re­ally be­lieves that, though. Bill is a po­lit­i­cal an­i­mal and will find it hard to stand by as his wife goes it alone against their shared op­po­nents.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll by NBC news and the Wall Street Jour­nal, 56 per­cent of U.S. vot­ers have a pos­i­tive opin­ion of the pres­i­dent who was once im­peached for ly­ing about an af­fair.

This com­pares to only 44 per­cent for his wronged wife, de­spite her Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner sta­tus. 36 per­cent of vot­ers have a neg­a­tive opin­ion of her, only 26 of him.

Ex­plain­ing Stuff

Bill’s ap­proval rat­ings also out­strip Obama’s, and by en­dors­ing his wife’s for­mer op­po­nent, boosted Obama’s 2012 re­elec­tion drive and helped mend fences with black vot­ers.

His rap­tur­ously re­ceived speech at Obama’s nom­i­na­tion con­ven­tion earned Bill the thanks of the White House and the tongue-in-cheek ti­tle of “sec­re­tary for ex­plain­ing stuff.”

But could Bill also be his wife’s sav­ior if her cam­paign runs into trou­ble? Bren­dan Ny­han, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Dart­mouth Col­lege, thinks not.

“Bill Clin­ton is ob­vi­ously a very gifted politi­cian but he cam­paigned for plenty of can­di­dates who could not sur­vive when con­di­tions were un­fa­vor­able and he could not save Hil­lary in 2008,” he notes.

In the 600 days re­main­ing be­fore Amer­ica goes to the polls on Novem­ber 8, 2016, Bill can play to his strengths as a party fund-raiser and back room ad­viser with a sharp po­lit­i­cal mind.

But it will be for Hil­lary to find her own magic on the stump.

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