Obama's Message for 2016 Wannabes (Who Aren't Hillary): Cool It

Elspeth Reeve
The Atlantic Wire

Hillary Clinton received a ringing endorsement from President Obama out of their joint interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night, but what did Obama get out of it? He got the chance to tell any other Democrats planning a 2016 run to back off. "You guys in the press are incorrigible — I was literally inaugurated four days ago, and you're talking about elections four years from now," Obama told Steve Kroft. He singled reporters, but he could have been talking about his vice-president, the mayor of Newark, and the governors of New York and Maryland. Because, behind the warm repartee between the bitterest of 2008 Democratic rivals was a firm message: any Democrat with presidential aspirations will have to deal with Obama and Clinton first.

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Steve Kroft got things started with an interesting claim: "I understand, Mr. President, this was your idea. Why did you want to do this together, a joint interview?" It certainly a good place to start. For Clinton, the benefits were pretty clear: if she decides to run in 2016 — standard disclaimers about how she has made no decision and is focusing on time off and healing and other things that aren't mutually exclusive to thinking about launching a presidential campaign — with Obama's endorsement, she is the frontrunner.

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But what about Obama? What did he get out of making a de facto endorsement four years out (well, really more like two) from the next presidential election? Obama, of course, just said he "just wanted to publicly say thank you" to Clinton for all her hard work. But imagine what the Joe Bidens, Cory Bookers, and Andrew Cuomos of the world saw in that interview: the climb to the Democratic nomination will now be over both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In other words, Obama's thanks to Hillary was a giant "no thanks" to all the other Democrats eyeing his job. 

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The conventional wisdom is that in their second terms, presidents have only a year and a half or so to get anything done, because then attention turns to the next presidential campaign. That would be even worse if Obama spent his last few years in office in the shadow of a fractious Democratic primary campaign. (The presidency of George W. Bush was basically over by the end of 2007 as the crowded field of Republicans in the primary squeezed him out of the picture.)

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The weekend Obama was sworn in, Vice President Joe Biden attended the State Society of Iowa's "First in the Nation Celebration," where Biden said in his speech, "I'm proud to be President of the United States…" before the crowd's laughter and an aide's whisper in his ear caused him to correct himself. He invited to his swearing-in several politicians and dignitaries from early primary statesDuring the 2012 election, Biden kept requesting to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, Politico reported last week. A "Democrat close to the White House" told Politico that Biden is "intoxicated by the idea" of running for president.

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He's not alone. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, a city with 277,540 people, was a very frequent guest on Sunday political talk shows during the presidential campaign. He worked hard to preserve his donor base in the financial sector during the debate over Mitt Romney's Bain Capital career. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo is setting himself up as a great defender of liberal values, pushing gay marriage and an assault weapons ban(It's working! A headline from NBC New York: "Andrew Cuomo Finding His Voice as a Liberal Lion.") When asked in December about Clinton's possible candidacy, Cuomo avoided comment, telling a New York radio station, "That’s a long way away." He avoided comment when asked about his own possible candidacy, too: "Oh, it’s a long way away. Are you running? Are you running? Is someone else running? We’d have to assess all the candidates." Then there's Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who's getting better known for his Sunday show zingers. He went to Iowa in September, he's head of the Democratic Governors Association, he oversaw the state's adoption of gay marriage and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Would he run for the White House, a Baltimore CBS affiliate asked? "I don't know, and it's kind of nice not to know," O'Malley said. Obama would probably like to know it'll be a boring 2016 primary campaign.