- - Thursday, August 20, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Who is Barack Obama’s candidate? Does he have one yet? Would his endorsement make a difference? These are questions that, so far, interest mostly the chattering class in Washington, with its obsession with who’s up, who’s down, who’s in and who may be out. The president will have a legacy — every president does, like it or not — and a legacy, the sum of his successes and failures, is something he will have no control over. History makes up its own mind.

How much his endorsement will be worth depends on whether his campaign organization, which employed a unique understanding of the digital revolution, can be held together and whether it can be put at the service of an Obama endorsement. Can the old-style campaign apparatus of the big cities, once dominant in Democratic politics, now eroded but still important, be successfully resuscitated and put to work?

The president has his own future to think about, too. He’ll have to get a job, and he says he has run his last election campaign. He might like to be the commissioner of the National Basketball Association; he could hang out with the stars and practice his slam dunk. He could hang out with the little mules at the United Nations and bask in the glow, such as it is, that the secretary-general casts in the shadows of statecraft.

Hillary Clinton, who once thought she would be the heir to Mr. Obama’s legacy, is still the odds-on Democratic favorite, but her campaign is losing altitude and steam. She thought she was on the way to her coronation. Now, not quite so much. She needs some of the charm and charisma of her husband, who knew how to weather a storm, and she has none of it. She has none of his appeal to black voters, and Hispanic voters could be turned off by her greed and arrogance like everyone else. Mr. Obama may not have an appetite for such a large reclamation project.

Her denials of manipulation of government emails, as accusations of her playing fast and loose with national security just keep coming, show how the coronation strategy has frayed. With so many young Republican contenders in the race, it’s tempting, but too soon, to call her yesterday’s goods.

How far would the president want to push Hillary’s campaign, given its lack of luster? If the erosion of her reputation continues, a flood of Democrats will attract the eye of the Great Mentioner — that mysterious favorite of the political correspondents eager to identify someone as “being mentioned” as a prospective candidate. Two governors with familiar names, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jerry Brown of California have caught the Great Mentioner’s eye; so has Ken Salazar, the Interior secretary and once mayor of San Antonio.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is the rock star on the margins, a favorite of the far left of the party, whose unabashed socialism is unlikely to be a strength in a general-election campaign. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, challenged Hillary first, but he hasn’t stirred up much dust. Sen. Elizabeth Warren keeps making noises with her Shermanoid insistence that she’s not interested.

First and finally, there’s Joe Biden, the affable, likable vice president, who comes closest of all Democrats to a candidate with Bill Clinton’s roguish charm. He shares Mr. Obama’s politics, and he has been a faithful acolyte, walking a step and a half behind the chief, always at his back. Good ol’ Joe has his limitations, always at the ready with a gaffe or a blunder. The draft-Joe movement, such as it is, is collecting campaign wise men, some of them employed by Mr. Obama in the past. Is this a hint, or merely a happening?

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