After weeks of escalating warfare and tit-for-tat shankings as if someone sat at the wrong bench in the prison yard, the old talk of a Hillary-Barack or Barack-Hillary ticket seems as quaint now as “WIN” buttons* and Spiro Agnew wristwatches. That, of course, was back in December, when Hillary’s coronation was imminent and she could afford to be magnanimous, and before Obama’s poll numbers were anywhere near her hemisphere much less her ZIP code. Today, on March 9, with every delegate as precious as a pocket of oxygen in a collapsed mine and the candidates’ staffs scrambling for a strategy to win Guam (“Jesus, I don’t know–which ocean is that even in? Do we have anyone who knows the language there?”), you’ll have a better chance finding a copy of Band On The Run in Heather Mills’ CD collection than you will in finding any love between Hillary and Barack.
We have almost four months to go before the last primary votes are cast in Puerto Rico, and we still might be looking at late-June primaries to clean up the Michigan and Florida messes that Howard Dean wrought. They aren’t going to be spending that time cuddling together in front of Nora Ephron movies and sharing late-night tiramisu at Cheesecake Factory. Clinton’s Communications director Howard Wolfson portraying Obama’s attacks on Hillary as “Ken Starr-like” and Obama’s erstwhile National Security consultant calling Hillary “a monster” are just the tip of the iceberg. From this point forward it’s going to be all about cutting hamstrings and brake lines. This could even be that rare game of Chicken where no one swerves.
So, at this point, the only place their names are likely to show up in close proximity this fall is on a coroner’s worklist.
“I’ve had a lot of people saying, ‘I wish I could vote for both of you’…Well, that might be possible someday,” Hillary said this week–in Mississippi. That was an almost deplorably cynical and patronizing sop that Hillary thought she could sell to the voters of a state that has the lowest high school completion rate in the country. In other words, just do the right thing and vote for me, and I’ll find work for your boy this fall.
If you’re one of those, though, still pulling for a bleach-ammonia dream ticket, don’t despair yet. The United States Executive Branch has had its share of improbable marriages. I suggested last week that a McCain-Romney ticket might just be the shotgun marriage that John McCain needs to initiate to win the White House. On its face, Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman had a better shot of making a go at it, but it’s important to understand that the formation of a Presidential ticket isn’t like two buddies deciding to open a sports bar. In most cases, it’s the ultimate marriage of convenience.
In the 19th century, Presidential candidates rarely knew their Vice Presidential candidates before they were picked for them. In 1876, when New York Congressman William Almon Wheeler was tapped as a running mate for Ohio Governor William Rutherford Hayes, Hayes had to confess, “I’m ashamed to say: Who is Wheeler?” In 1844, former U.S. Senator, Freemason Grand Master, and Minister to Russia George Miflin Dallas was awakened at the crack of dawn by a jovial, boisterous travelling party who informed him that he’d just been selected to run with ninth-ballot nominee, former Speaker of the House and Tennessee Governor, James K. Polk.
In 1980, George Bush and Ronald Reagan fought each other like badgers throughout the primary. Bush famously assailed the centerpiece of Reagan’s election bid, his trickle-down economics plan, as “voodoo economics”. Reagan preferred his like-minded friend, Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt, but Reagan’s brain trust scuttled that choice early because, as 1984 Reagan campaign director Ed Rollins explained in his book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, “the unwritten rule of American politics was that you didn’t have two guys from the same region. Besides, they argued, as an ex-governor of a state with legalized gambling and prostitution, Laxalt would cause trouble in the Bible Belt.”
Rollins also says that Reagan’s second choice, former Buffalo Bills quarterback and Congressional conservative hero, Jack Kemp, was scratched because “the wise men argued against Kemp because you supposedly couldn’t have an ex-movie star running with an ex-football star…Who the fuck made these guys wise men?” They next came up with the deluded idea of running former President Gerald Ford with Reagan. Reagan tepidly acquiesced, but when Ford started crowing about their union being a “co-Presidency”, Reagan went with his recent nemesis and a man he very clearly didn’t like all that well to be his first lieutenant in the nascent Reagan Revolution.
The most famous strange bedfellows instance came in 1960, when the Hatfield-McCoy LBJ-JFK camps somehow found one another and wound up sharing the same ticket. These two men despised one another, and couldn’t have come from different worlds. It’s said that Lady Bird Johnson exerted pressure on her husband to find a job that wouldn’t kill him, as his gig as Senate Majority Leader was surely doing, and Kennedy needed to bolster his southern support if he was going to capture the White House (without too much obvious intervention from his all-powerful father). Bobby Kennedy was very nearly apoplectic when he got word that Johnson was actually going to accept the offer. “Oh my God…Now what do we do?”
In a nutshell, anything’s possible this year, regardless of the daggers being drawn and plunged as we speak. I’m not betting the store on it, but Hillary at least is no stranger to strained marriages. And it could, after all, be a very amusing intervention if the Attorney General has to issue a restraining order against the President or the Vice President against the other.
*Faced with post-Watergate/pre-malaise economic disarray, President Gerald Ford bypassed his economic advisers and decided that the best way to right America’s economic ship was by declaring war on inflation by encouraging Americans to don buttons reading “WIN”, which stood for “Whip Inflation Now”. Critics joked that the buttons could be turned upside-down to read “NIM”, as in “Need Immediate Money” or “Nonstop Inflation Merry-go-round”. Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at the time, future Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, recalled assessing the WIN strategy at the time, “This is incredibly stupid.”