Should the President ask his VP and his Secretary of State to trade jobs? This is one of those too-delicious by half ideas that builds up as beltway buzz and becomes the stuff of gossip columns and talk show chatter. Increasingly however, the idea is not crazy if Obama gets the timing right. It cannot cannot happen mid-term, because under the 25th Amendment, the Republican-controlled House would have to approve the switch — and strengthening the Democratic ticket is not high on Speaker John Boehner’s list of things to do.
Why ask them to swap when both Clinton and Biden are by all accounts doing a great job? Mainly because it would revitalize and unify the Democratic ticket, which will face a formidable opposition, contrary to popular wisdom. I don’t know whether the Republicans will nominate Perry or Romney, but I have a pretty good idea of who the short list for VP will be — and Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman don’t need to wait by the phone.
The strongest VP candidates for Perry or Romney are David Petraeus and Mario Rubio. Petraeus is unlikely to do it. He is a Rockefeller Republican, who Romney could not appoint. He just began a job running the CIA, which takes him out of domestic politics. I hope. He is not Tea Party certified and while he clearly brings huge strengths to any ticket, is not an experienced campaigner (military campaigns don’t count, although the differences are fewer than many realize).
Rubio is a different matter entirely. He is young, son of Cuban exiles, the politically savvy former Speaker of the Florida House, telegenic, and a Senator from a battleground state. He is fully credentialed by the TP crowd. A Romney – Rubio ticket will begin with massive strength in the south and will be very tough to beat in Florida. Romney will play well in the Midwest, where his father was a popular governor, and to conservative parts of New England. Rubio would energize Hispanic voters and extend the Republican base beyond the rich, the pugnacious, and the certifiably looney. It would be a tough ticket to beat — and Obama knows it.
Hillary helps Obama to rally Democrats and Independents. She is a formidable, even relentless, campaigner and she works harder than anyone in politics. It is not simply that she has handled problems in North Korea, Iran, and Israel without upstaging Obama, or that she has been supportive of the president and has been serious, intelligent, and energetic. It’s not just that people in the State Department like her — and some like her a lot — or that she has kept her husband out of the limelight, despite the fears many had. It’s that, unlike Joe,Hillary has a devoted constituency. She draws women, independents, and blue collar voters in much larger numbers than Biden or Obama. She adds deeply to the ticket.
The case for Biden as Secretary of State is also clear: it is the job he has always wanted and he would be very good at it. He was the ranking member and often the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has the requisite rolodex, and he likes diplomacy. He will rely more on personal relationships with foreign leaders than Hillary has, but that’s fine. Biden has built a very solid relationship with Obama and would continue as a senior advisor — a role he enjoys and excels at.
The timing of the Great Swap is constrained by the Constitution. Section 2 of the 25th Amendment states that “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.” At the moment, that confirmation would be far from assured, so Obama is not likely to ask Biden to resign, appoint Hillary VP, then appoint Biden to State (where his Senate confirmation would be a cake walk). Instead, if he decides to do this, he would plan the move now and nominate Hillary at the convention. Once nominated, Hillary would resign her position and Obama would name Biden to fill it immediately. No House vote needed.
Will Obama make the Great Swap? A lot can go wrong with moves like this — but Obama knows better than anyone that a Presidential campaign requires imagination and energy. Much can and will change before the convention, but we can count on this: Obama is considering this move.