The 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Primary was one of the most contentious in recent history. Hillary Clinton was slated to be the hands-down nominee, even though, as a United States senator, she had loudly and proudly supported then-President George W. Bush’s unpopular Iraq War.
Hillary was also viewed with great suspicion by the Democratic Party’s rank-and-file.
After all, her husband, the forty-second president, had become president by running against the Liberal wing of his party (even though both Bill and Hillary Clinton were very Liberal in their personal political views).
Just as in 2016, when Hillary was ultimately bested by the upstart Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, Hillary was knocked off what was to be her coronation as the next president by the anti-Iraq War Democratic Party upstart from Chicago, Barack Obama.
Out of the morass of the DNC primary in 2008 came the scurrilous rumor that Barack Obama was not an American citizen but instead was born as a foreign national from Kenya. (Of course, by 2011, Donald Trump himself would push that rumor for his own political purposes. Although he did not create the rumor).
When Obama was clearly beating Clinton, going into the Democratic National Convention, there were real fears among the Democratic Party’s power elite that Clinton was going to mount a convention floor challenge to Obama’s nomination.
This would have torn the Democratic Party apart and given their Republican rival, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a great window of opportunity to defeat the Democrats in 2008.
A Bizarre Political Marriage
Despite the bad blood between Clinton and Obama, the two came together and made a deal. It was assumed that Obama would do for Hillary what Republican Ronald Reagan had done for George H.W. Bush during the 1980 GOP Primary: make her the vice-presidential candidate.
Yet, the deal that Obama struck with Clinton was slightly less appealing than the one that Reagan had struck with Bush in 1980. Rather than make Clinton his running-mate as many expected, Obama made one-man-gaffe-machine Joe Biden his number two and eventually made Clinton his secretary of state.
Rumors abounded that the reason the deal between Obama and Clinton looked as it did was because of none other than Michelle Obama. According to the rumors about how and why Barack Obama chose to make Hillary Clinton his secretary of state rather than his vice-president, it was due to Michelle Obama’s antipathy toward Hillary.
Some have gone so far as to speculate that Michelle Obama worried that having Hillary Clinton one heartbeat away from the presidency would lead to unwanted problem results for Barack Obama as president.
After all, the Clintons had a reputation, whether fair or not, for having been involved in some highly sordid affairs going back to the days when Bill Clinton served as governor of Arkansas. Scandal and controversy, to say nothing of accusations of criminality, dogged the Clintons for decades. There were even horrific (unproven) suspicions that the Clintons had had people, such as Vince Foster, murdered as though they were mob bosses in 1930s Chicago.
Michelle Obama probably wanted to keep Hillary away from the number slot as president simply because she was offended by the way that the Clintons had conducted their campaign against Barack Obama in the 2008 DNC Primary. It was a sort of punishment. Michelle wanted her husband to keep their friends close and enemies closer—but not too close.
Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton could have been trusted to leave Obama’s presidency alone if Hillary were his number two.
VP Hillary Clinton: What If?
Still, it’s an interesting thought experiment to contemplate what might have been in 2008, had Obama replicated that which Ronald Reagan had done for the man he had defeated in a nasty primary fight, if Barack Obama had made Hillary Clinton his running-mate.
It certainly would’ve made history. And the vice-presidential debate of 2008 would have been fascinating, what with Sarah Palin squaring off against Hillary Clinton.
Beyond the history of having the first African-American and first female as president and vice-president, it is likely that Hillary Clinton would’ve found working directly as Obama’s number two difficult.
Obama probably would’ve wanted to keep her frozen out of most issues.
Whereas her role in reality—the secretary of state—allowed her to keep a safe distance from Obama and yet still build a profile for herself, being vice-president would’ve placed her directly next to the White House in the Old Executive Office Building and would have given her a role in which it was entirely up to the president to give her a policy portfolio.
This would have engendered animosity between the two top people on the ticket. It would have led to vicious internecine fighting. This relationship would’ve been competitive and bitter, probably leading to devastating scandals.
Given the competitiveness, paranoia, and animosity between Obama and Clinton, at the end of his first term, President Obama would’ve had to replace Clinton as his vice-president because she’d have become a liability and someone he could not trust.
Joe Biden’s Utility to Obama
There’s another interesting facet to this scenario. The lack of Joe Biden as vice-president. Originally, the thought among Democrats was to make Joe Biden the secretary of state for the Obama Administration.
As a senator, Biden had led the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had been a long-time fixture in the Senate. While his colleagues viewed him as an amiable dunce, the fact remained that Biden had deep ties to both foreign leaders and, more importantly, power elite in Washington, D.C.
Sure, the Clintons also had that but their relationship with those powerbrokers in Washington was much more transactional than Biden’s. Had he been made secretary of state, it is likely that Biden’s tenure as America’s senior diplomat would have been a disaster.
He is known as a walking gaffe machine. What was needed during the Obama years was less foreign policy leadership (it was certainly important and otherwise lacking in the forty-fourth president’s administration) and more domestic dealmaking.
At key points during the Obama years, it was Joe Biden who backchanneled with former Republican colleagues from the senate, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which broke through key impasses during the various financial crises that erupted during Obama’s tenure in office.
As talks broke down between the House Republicans and the Obama White House over Speaker of the House John Boehner’s (R-OH) “grand bargain” for reducing America’s burdensome debt, it was Biden who made several breakthroughs with Senate Republicans to prevent America from sliding off the fiscal cliff.
Had Hillary Clinton been vice president and Biden have been gallivanting around the globe as America’s top diplomat, the economy would have crashed, and everyone would be poorer today. Plus, Obama might have become a one-term president. Hillary Clinton was incapable of the backslapping and interpersonal finessing that Biden excelled at.
Plus, Hillary was hated far more than Biden ever was.
Things Worked Out for Obama
Obama avoided a nightmare by not doing what everyone thought he should have done and making Hillary Clinton his number two. Joe Biden proved to be the workman of the Obama Administration, coming through for the president at key moments while also pushing Obama into several policy positions that were popular with the Democratic Party’s base but that Obama was reticent to embrace (such as supporting the legalization of gay marriage).
Many on the Right have made a sport out of mocking Biden for his many flaws (and there are many), but at crucial moments in history, Biden has had the last laugh—even if his own party, notably his former partner in politics, Barack Obama, refuses to acknowledge it.
Poor Ole Joe Can’t Get No Recognition
Despite the vital role Biden had played as Obama’s number two at key points in his controversial presidency, Obama still leaned toward Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election.
It was Joe Biden’s oldest son, Beau, who urged his father to run for president in 2016 as Beau Biden was dying of cancer. At that time, a bevy of reports circulated in the press that Joe Biden was preparing to do as his dying son had asked.
It was Biden’s old partner, Obama, who commanded the then-vice-president to bugger off from that course of action. Obama and the Democratic Party had made their Devil’s bargain with Hillary Clinton in 2016. They could not back away from that, given the Clinton family’s ability to seek retribution against those they think slighted them politically.
That bargain cost the Democrats, dearly.
I have a sneaking suspicion that, had Biden been given Obama’s blessing to run in 2016, the Democrats would have decisively won, since Biden wouldn’t have been as foolish as Hillary to have mocked and impugned the traditionally pro-Democratic Party working-class.
What’s more, Biden was infinitely more popular than the shrill and patently corrupt Hillary Clinton. Remember that back in 2016 few outside of the innermost power players of the Washington, D.C. set knew about Hunter Biden’s corrupt dealings.
So, while Hillary Clinton as Obama’s vice-president would’ve been an awful idea for the forty-fourth president, the fact remained that Obama still ultimately hitched his political wagon to Hillary’s future—and he paid dearly for it.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.