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December 15th, 2018

Insight

In The Shoulda, Woulda World Of Democrats And Bill Clinton, How His Resignation Alters Politics

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published Nov. 21, 2017

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand -- ironically, Hillary Clinton's successor and a supporter of her two presidential runs -- now believes Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency for sexual misconduct.

Pop quiz!

The worst week in American politics belongs to:

  1. Senate Republicans, who have to figure how to find 50 votes for their tax-cut measure.
  2. Senate Democrats, who have to figure what to do with Al Franken.
  3. President Trump, who for reasons not readily understandable ended up on the unpopular side of elephant trophies.
  4. Hillary Clinton, who likewise for reasons not readily understandable (seriously, Madame Secretary, Mother Jones?) demonstrated the difference between winning and whining.

The answer:

None of the above.

The worst week in U.S. politics belongs to Bill Clinton, as the frenzy over sexual harassment has led to his fellow Democrats rethinking the former President's behavior while in the Oval Office.

Most notably: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, ironically the occupant of the seat once held by Hillary Clinton and a past supporter of Hillary's two presidential runs. She now believes the 42nd President should've resigned for his sexual misconduct.

Interpret Gillibrand's choice of words as you like. Yes, like Donna Brazile's book, it shows some Democrats' willingness to shovel dirt on the Clintons' political grave. As Gillibrand is one of several congressional Democrats mentioned as a presidential hopeful, it puts her in the spotlight on a topic -- men behaving badly -- that the party's next nominee surely will showcase in 2020.

Maybe Democrats will ease off Bill Clinton between now and the next election (not everyone on the left will be comfortable at making the ex-prez a sacrifice to the p.c. mob).

Meanwhile, the fact that we're again revisiting the events of 20 years underscores what a turning point in history that scandal was.

Let's suppose that history follows a different path and Bill Clinton, as per Sen. Gillibrand's post-facto suggestion, doesn't outlast impeachment but instead resigns midway through his second term.

The political dominos:

-- I'm willing to wager that Al Gore, not George W. Bush, wins the presidency in 2000. Gore would have been free from the awkwardness of whether to embrace or distance himself from Clinton. He also would have benefitted from the added stature as commander-in-chief. Delivering State of the Union Addresses, issuing executive orders and deplaning from Air Force One probably is worth a few hundred votes in Florida. And that delivers the election to Gore.

-- Assuming the 9/11 attacks still occur, does a Gore Administration invade Afghanistan and Iraq? As with the Bush presidency, there's a question of who would have been Gore's veep (a hawkish Joe Lieberman would have favored military solutions). Gore backed the use of force in Kosovo and Bosnia. Concerned with WMDs, perhaps Gore makes the same case as Colin Powell before the United Nations. Or perhaps he doesn't -- and Saddam Hussein is running Iraq.

-- Her husband having resigned in disgrace, does Hillary Clinton make a Senate run in 2000? I doubt it. But Democrats remain on the same path to 2008: a promising young senator from Illinois is too much for John Kerry, John Edwards and the early establishment frontrunner -- i.e., Lieberman, or whoever was serving as Gore's veep.

-- As Obama closes in on victory in 2008, perhaps a now-divorced Hillary Clinton sets up shop in Chicago, lying in wait for Obama's seat to become available. Does that, in turn, put her on a path for 2016?

The other curious thing about an alternative universe in which Bill Clinton is the second president to resign in disgrace: the Republicans' situation might not be much different than it is today.

History shows us that while Bush did win the presidency in 2000, he failed to convert the GOP to his vision of a milder approach he called “compassionate conservatism". That style of government -- cutting deals on education with Ted Kennedy -- was a victim of 9/11 attacks, what with the success or failure of the Bush presidency re-defined by national security concerns.

What might have transpired, after a Bush loss to Gore in 2000, would be three lackluster GOP presidential campaigns led by candidates who were adaptive conservatives, not originators of a new governing philosophy (for the sake of argument, I'll give you John McCain in 2004, Mitt Romney in 2008 and Jeb Bush in 2012).

And that takes us to 2016.

In a large field of Republicans all competing to be the heart and soul of the GOP, Donald Trump still earns the nomination by stitching together the largest of the competing pluralities -- one built on economic (slow growth, loss of manufacturing jobs) and social (immigration, identity politics) frustration.

Maybe Trump doesn't have Hillary to kick around in 2016. But time is on his side.  As in 1952, after two decades of control of the presidency, the Democratic Party runs out of steam after mounting a losing campaign built more on Trump's character flaws than addressing its own shortcomings.

One doubts that any of this will come up as a topic of bar conversation while Clinton-Gore veterans gather this weekend in Little Rock for the 25th anniversary of that ticket's victory.

But in an odd way, it's Bill Clinton's biggest contribution to history: ow what he did -- and didn't do -- 20 years ago altered the political timeline.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.

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