A sure sign that an administration is in trouble is Beltway buzz about making dramatic changes at or near the top. Lately, there has been increasing chatter about moving Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to a new job. The goal of the musical chairs would be to keep her from challenging the politically flailing President Obama in a Democratic primary in 2012.
Most speculation centers on elevating Mrs. Clinton to the second spot on the ticket. It seems early in the game for a "Dump Biden" movement, but some schemes would move him over to the State Department as a major consolation prize. Joe Biden would then join the list of discarded vice presidents that includes Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Wallace, Schuyler Colfax and Hannibal Hamlin.
Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder launched an attack on Mr. Biden earlier this month, saying the veep "has continued to undermine what little confidence the public may have had in him" and ridiculing him for "too many YouTube moments." An AP-GfK Roper poll conducted shortly thereafter showed 43 percent of Americans had an unfavorable impression of Mr. Biden, though the same poll showed the same result for Mr. Obama, along with 50 percent disapproval of his job performance. If Mr. Biden's public confidence has been undermined, Mr. Obama's is in free fall.
On Sunday, David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post that making Mrs. Clinton vice president would be Mr. Obama's "second term masterstroke." Mr. Ignatius is no Hillary fan. After the election in November 2008, he called her a "big, hungry, needy ego" and said that making her secretary of state would be "a mistake of potentially enormous proportions." Trading the vice president's office to forestall Hillary's shot at the top spot - placating her "needy ego" with a symbolic office of no importance - certainly would be a masterstroke.
Another option getting batted around is to sideline Mrs. Clinton at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced he'll probably retire in December 2011 after the Afghanistan policy review, and Mrs. Clinton might be beguiled at being the "historic" first woman defense secretary. Former Council on Foreign Relations President Leslie Gelb pitched the idea earlier this year and contends the military "loves" her, a crush which is likely to fade if Hillary actually becomes the civilian leader to those in uniform.
Although sporting, none of the speculation means much at this stage. The size of the expected Democrat debacle in this fall's elections has yet to play out, and that election will set the initial terms for 2012. Mrs. Clinton has no pressing need to change jobs. Meanwhile, the new documentary "We Will Not Be Silenced," detailing alleged fraud involved in Mr. Obama's 2008 nomination, has been gaining more attention in Democratic circles. If Hillary supporters are going to mount a party coup against the first black president, they will need a better argument than that he is a complete disaster in his job.
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