Dream Ticket, or Nightmare Scenario?
03-17-2008
The recent speculation about a potential Clinton/Obama, or Obama/Clinton, Democratic dream ticket continues to percolate, with two Washington heavyweights voicing their considered opinions to the negative. Both Washington Post journalist David Broder and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have argued in the past few days that the two candidates are not likely to share the presidential ticket in November. Broder has written that the idea is far-fetched, and Pelosi has stated publicly that the pairing is impossible. When asked again yesterday by George Stephanopoulos on This Week, Pelosi seemed even more certain that Clinton and Obama would not join forces.
 
You may be wondering where I come down on the relative merits of a presidential ticket comprised of some ordering of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Well, I actually made the case against such a pairing back in February, in this interview (I'm sorry I can’t help with a translation). The gist of my argument was that sometimes, in the alchemy of presidential ticket-balancing, the political whole actually turns out to be less than the sum of its exciting candidate parts.
 
Anytime you take two campaigns that have spent the better part of two years attacking each other with every weapon available, and attempt to meld them into a seamless general election juggernaut, you are bound to run into all sorts of operational problems that can seriously undercut the ticket. Every issue imaginable must be negotiated between the two mutually-suspicious, alpha campaign staffs. This often results in the candidates adopting a watered-down, compromise message, or in their articulating conflicting positions that undercut each other on the stump. Mix in the turf battles, thinly-veiled hatreds, and anonymous finger-pointing, which are par for the course with these types of arrangements, and what seemed like a good idea in August, turns out to be a nightmare of recriminations in November.
 
Since the candidates can’t effectively run as co-presidential nominees, the vice presidential candidate in this situation may find it difficult to subordinate his or her political will and staff to the judgment of the top of the ticket. The merging of campaigns works much more efficiently, when the presidential candidate can pick someone for the second slot to whom he or she is genuinely drawn, and for whom the inherent asymmetry in staff operational power is more likely to be acceptable.
 
Also, having already spent months slamming each other’s experience, judgment, leadership capabilities and ethics, Clinton and Obama may simply be loath to link their political futures, preferring instead to regroup individually for gubernatorial runs in 2010, or eventual movement into Senate leadership. The vice presidential candidate on a winning Democratic ticket would also face the prospect of having to run for president eight years hence, largely on the record of his or her chief rival in the primaries. So, while it is true that these marriages of political convenience result in victory on occasion (Reagan/Bush or JFK/LBJ), my sense is that they are rarely synergistic (Kerry/Edwards) in a way that lives up to all of their promise.


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