- - Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If Hillary Rodham Clinton is ever elected president, her route to success will be traced back to one subtle yet brilliant political strategy: leaving Barack Obama and his White House.

You don’t have to admire or respect Mrs. Clinton to give her due credit for, frankly, fooling most of us last year.

Her decision to leave the secretary of state position and head back to private life earlier this year seemed genuine at the time. She already had a long career in politics, including two terms as first lady and eight years as a junior senator from New York. Mrs. Clinton had also lost a nail-biter of a Democratic presidential nomination to Mr. Obama in 2008. Some observers think that excruciatingly difficult political contest took the wind out of her sails.

In 2012, Mrs. Clinton switched to a less-than-professional appearance during a tour of Bangladesh and India. This led Fox News’ website to write she looked “tired and withdrawn.” She even told CNN’s Jill Dougherty that her appearance was “just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.” The so-called Hillary Au Naturale brouhaha made more than a few people wonder if she had had enough.

Not a chance. While Mrs. Clinton certainly could have had a brief period of personal reflection, I think all of these things were done to deflect attention away from her primary goal. That is, to become president — and more specifically, America’s first female president.

It appears that this goal could have been put in jeopardy at an earlier point, however.

According to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s new book, “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” there were reportedly some secret focus group meetings and polling with respect to a proposed switch for the Democratic ticket during the 2012 presidential election. The suggestion was that Mrs. Clinton would have replaced Joe Biden as the vice-presidential candidate.

Ultimately, Mr. Obama’s campaign team determined that their odds of winning wouldn’t have significantly improved with Mrs. Clinton. They left the ticket as it was and ended up victorious against GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.

Obviously, I can’t speak for the validity of Mr. Halperin and Mr. Heilemann’s analysis. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it were true: Political operatives always explore different strategies and tactics during an election campaign. From Mrs. Clinton’s position, it was certainly fortuitous that it never occurred. Why? It gave her a golden opportunity to put some distance between herself and the Obama White House.

If Mrs. Clinton had remained in her high-profile position as secretary of state, her own political ambitions would have been dragged down by Mr. Obama’s weak policies. No aspiring presidential candidate would relish the task of running on the foundation of the president’s horrid economic agenda, which includes multibillion-dollar government bailouts, Obamacare and near-historical highs for unemployment levels. Her foreign-policy credentials, which have historically been hawkish for a Democrat, didn’t mesh with Mr. Obama’s “hug a dictator” strategy. While Mrs. Clinton has liberal Democratic tendencies, she also appears willing to take more centrist and balanced political positions than the current administration.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has just fallen to his lowest point in popularity since becoming president in January 2009. A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal survey revealed he had a 51 percent job-disapproval rating versus 42 percent approval. Conversely, 45 percent of respondents view him negatively versus 41 percent viewing him in a positive light.

If you think Mrs. Clinton doesn’t take some private pleasure in knowing she won’t be dragged down by Mr. Obama’s unpopularity, think again.

She knows the trials and tribulations of the Obama White House mustn’t lurk in the background should she hit the campaign trail in 2016. Mrs. Clinton departed at the start of Mr. Obama’s second presidential term, giving her nearly four years to brush aside any and all links to the president. She will be able to present herself as an independent political thinker with new and fresh economic ideas for American voters.

To put it another way, Mrs. Clinton faithfully served Mr. Obama for four years and has put herself in a position to faithfully serve the country for up to eight more as president.

Love her or hate her, Mrs. Clinton’s political strategy is absolutely superb. It wasn’t going to be easy for the Republicans to beat her to begin with. Alas, the task at hand has become a great deal harder.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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