If she runs for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton may find herself not only having to distance herself from President Obama, but she will also have to put some space between herself and her own husband, former President Bill Clinton, on everything from marijuana policy to immigration.
Policy disagreements between Mrs. Clinton and her husband, however minor, could become a major story as the 2016 presidential race heats up. It’s already clear there is daylight between the two on, among other things, infamous NSA leaker Edward Snowden, condemned by the former secretary of state but described as an “imperfect messenger” in an important debate by the 42nd president.
Then there’s Mr. Clinton’s own history during his administration, including his ramping up the war on drugs, signing the Defense of Marriage Act against gay marriage and signing into law a harsh crackdown on illegal immigration — all of which Mrs. Clinton will have to grapple with, especially in Democratic primaries.
Mr. Clinton recently tried to mop up those issues for his wife, stressing his support for same-sex marriage and saying the DOMA law he signed is unconstitutional. He’s also made clear he supports the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year, an apparent evolution on the issue.
In perhaps his biggest reversal, Mr. Clinton has declared that the war on drugs has not worked. He also recently voiced support for medical marijuana.
“I think there’s a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing. I think there are a lot of unresolved questions,” Mr. Clinton said during a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, adding that he believes the legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington should go forward.
Mrs. Clinton has expressed similar sentiments, though some advocates for legal marijuana say the former secretary of state has been more cautious in her statements about the medical benefits of pot.
Still, those apparent reversals may not be enough for some who remember how Mr. Clinton’s administration doubled down on the war on drugs by stepping up domestic enforcement and seeking to rein in narco gangs in Colombia and elsewhere.
Those efforts, he recently admitted, have failed, leading some to note the irony of Mr. Clinton’s past positions on drugs versus his positions today.
“It’s a little rich, considering his administration’s actual actions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, which advocates for medical marijuana use and the full-on legalization of the drug.
Mrs. Clinton “is probably going to get asked about the things that happened during his administration, and that could be problematic,” Mr. Angell added. “To be clear, that was her husband’s administration, and she shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for those actions. But it wouldn’t shock me if she was asked about them.”
By Mrs. Clinton’s own admission, there are other differences, though she’s declined to go into detail.
“I practiced law for a long time, and there’s such a thing called the marital privilege, where you do not testify against your spouse,” she told CNN in an interview last month when asked about disagreements with her husband.
Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, said with a decision on running for president still months away, Mrs. Clinton doesn’t yet have to engage in detailed policy discussions about where she and her husband differ.
“Until she announces she’s running, she really doesn’t have to determine what her clear position is on anything that hasn’t already been put out there,” she said. “I don’t think it’s smart at this point for her to engage in a lot of discussion about the nuanced differences she might have with her husband or any other Democratic leader.”
While slight policy differences over Mr. Snowden, marijuana and other issues have emerged, political analysts say Mr. Clinton also could become a “liability” on the campaign trail were he to commit a high-profile gaffe that dominates the headlines and takes the attention away from Mrs. Clinton.
That was the case in January 2008, when Mr. Clinton drew negative attention to himself and his wife’s campaign on the heels of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s primary election win in South Carolina.
The former president pointed out that the Rev. Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in 1984 and 1988, leading some pundits to speculate that Mr. Clinton was dismissing Mr. Obama as a “black-only” candidate who had no real shot of winning.
Or, political analysts say, Mr. Clinton’s past sexual indiscretions could become an issue once again and hinder Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
“She’s going to have to walk a very fine line. She will want to deploy him on the campaign trail because he is so well received but also not use him in a way that would conjure up images of his own moral lapses that he exhibited while in the White House,” Ms. Lawless said.
There are already indications Republicans may make those “moral lapses” an issue.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate, has described Mr. Clinton as a “sexual predator” due to his infidelity and conduct while president.
The Clintons themselves brought attention to the issue recently when Mrs. Clinton said the couple was “dead broke” upon leaving Washington due to millions of dollars in legal debts — debts incurred when Mr. Clinton hired attorneys to defend himself against sexual harassment lawsuits that evolved into the perjury and obstruction of justice charges, for which he was impeached.