After months of a sleek “will he or won’t he” campaign, Vice President Joe Biden announced that he will not seek the Democratic nomination for president. In an odd, hastily arranged speech that sounded more like a campaign launch, he claimed that the “window had closed,” with most observers concluding he exited because Hillary Clinton appears to be on the rebound.
Perhaps. Then again, not much in the Obama era is as it appears.
Every president wants an extended legacy through the election of his vice president. But with Mr. Biden “out,” on whom may Mr. Obama rely?
Let’s take a step back.
The president would like to have his own Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr. Obama has occasionally “joked” about his desire for a third term. As recently as July, in fact, he remarked about government officials who refuse to leave office after their term has expired, then used himself as an example and pointed out that he is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. He added, “I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran I could win. But I can’t.”
He protesteth too much.
Some worry that he may go full Alinsky and stoke a major crisis in order to justify staying in power, but that’s a lot of work, even for a revolutionary.
Instead he’ll go for the path of lesser resistance: an unofficial third term, but through whom?
Having largely delivered the “fundamental transformation of the nation” he promised in 2008 — moving America away from individual liberty, strong national defense and economic freedom, and toward European-style socialism sapped of superpower strength and influence — Mr. Obama’s goal now is to ensure that it continues uninterrupted.
That means he needs a successor he can control, someone he can rely on to preserve all elements of his revolution.
Just as importantly, he needs a successor who will not investigate what happened during his two terms to make the revolution possible: the weaponization of the Internal Revenue Service, Fast and Furious gunrunning, the monumental lies about Obamacare, the Benghazi attack, the Iran nuclear deal, the trade of five top Taliban commanders for the alleged deserter Bowe Bergdahl, the gutting of the military, the parade of executive orders on everything from coal production to illegal immigration, the refusal to acknowledge Islamism as a mortal threat, the refusal to confront aggression, the willful abandonment of allies
In 2008, Mr. Obama winked at his intentions: “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.”
He has succeeded in putting the country on his own “fundamentally different path,” but to lock it in, he needs a Medvedev in power.
In 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin, restricted by law from serving another term, engineered the election of Dmitry Medvedev as president. Mr. Putin installed himself as prime minister, controlling all policy while his willing puppet served as a figurehead. Four years later, Mr. Putin made a triumphant “return” as president.
It was a savvy tactical move, and Mr. Obama was paying attention.
Indeed, he has complained about being “constrained” by the Constitution, that “democracy is hard,” and has made wistful statements about the ease with which the world’s authoritarians can operate.
It also explains his long history of circumventing Congress and the law whenever they proved inconvenient obstacles to his “fundamental transformation.” Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping don’t have to deal with the burdensome rule of law.
In a 2012 conversation with Mr. Medvedev caught on mic, Mr. Obama asked for “space”: “This is my last election,” he said. “After my election, I have more flexibility.” Mr. Medvedev dutifully replied that he would “transmit” that information to “Vladimir.”
Maybe Mr. Obama meant that he’d have “more flexibility” to hand over the Middle East — and its oil — to Russia.
But Mr. Obama’s “last election?” Not really.
No one is suggesting that Mr. Obama will go the full Putin and install himself as vice president, then make a comeback as president. But he’d like to adapt the Putin model to install a groomed, controllable successor.
What matters, then, are the two people who will ultimately end up on the Democratic ticket. If Mssrs. Obama and Biden know that Mrs. Clinton is headed for serious legal trouble that will hobble her electability, they will have calculated that there is no upside to having Mr. Biden in the race — for now. They may be waiting for an indictment or some other precipitative event, at which point Mr. Biden can be “drafted” by the party, the reluctant elder statesman arriving white knight-style. He will then look like a “fresh face,” cruising unsullied to the nomination and into the general election campaign.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But Mr. Obama doesn’t care about the Democratic Party. He doesn’t care about Mrs. Clinton. He only cares about preserving and advancing his agenda. Can he count on Mrs. Clinton to do that? Possibly — but he may not want to take that gamble. In a surreal election cycle, anything can happen.
Mr. Obama knows how to make a lot of things happen.
Someone ought to transmit that to Hillary.
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