First Thoughts: Hillary's early start produces unintended consequences, including for Obama

Hillary’s early entry back into domestic politics produces unintended consequences, including speeding up Obama’s lame-duck status… Obama’s back from vacation… Why cutting off Egyptian aid is easier said than done… Something to chew on: Chris Christie is a shoo-in for re-election when his state’s unemployment rate is 8.7%... NYT: Christie to hit the ground running after November’s election… Scott Walker sounded like a ’16 candidate on “Morning Joe” this morning… McAuliffe defends GreenTech… And McDonnell’s attorneys meeting with prosecutors.

*** Hillary’s early start produces unintended consequences, including on Obama: It’s not too surprising that coverage and speculation of the very early 2016 presidential race has already begun. After all, with a term-limited Barack Obama in the White House, with so many trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, and with so many political reporters to cover them, looking ahead to a presidential contest three-plus years away was bound to happen. Plus, well, it’s August. But what IS surprising -- and maybe even surprising to the current team in the White House -- is how early Hillary Clinton herself has entered the domestic-political fray. A week ago, she delivered a speech about voting rights, a topic near and dear to the Democratic base. Next month, she’s expected to discuss the hotly debated issue of national-security surveillance. But she never needed to dip her toes into the presidential waters this early, especially given her ability to freeze the Democratic field and the donor class. And this early entry produces a few unintended consequences. One, it has triggered some tough news coverage like last week’s New York Times investigation into the Clinton Foundation, as well as another piece looking at how aide (and Anthony Weiner wife) Huma Abedin worked both for the State Department and as an outside consultant, and her consulting contract was with a longtime Clinton confidante Doug Band. Two, getting back into domestic politics is only bound to bring her sky-high poll numbers back to earth. Then again, all three of these things were bound to happen. But what’s the upside for her of them happening right now?

This July 16, 2013 file photo shows former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 51st Delta Sigma Theta National Convention in Washington. Cliff Owen / AP

*** Head-scratching time: What’s interesting is that in talks with strategists on both sides of the aisle, there is universal head-scratching over her decision to engage this early. The long campaign didn’t help Clinton in 2007-2008. Short campaigns are always more helpful to well-known front-runners. (See: Booker, Cory.) But if you’re Clinton, you may be thinking that you need to make sure there is no room on your left for another Obama, and it could be why she’s willing to risk her bipartisan political standing so early. Then again, that’s fighting the last war.

*** Speeding up the president’s lame-duck status: There’s another unintended consequence of Hillary already beginning to enter the 2016 fray: It speeds up the process of President Obama becoming a lame duck. It’s one thing for the Chattering Class to begin looking ahead to 2016; it’s another thing for rank-and-file Democrats start turning to the party’s next standard-bearer, especially at a time when the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has a lot on his plate -- immigration reform, the upcoming budget battles with Congress. Don’t get us wrong: The Democratic Party is still Obama’s party, and there is unity for most of his agenda. But some are beginning to cast a wayward glance at Hillary Clinton. That has an impact. The last thing the president needs is for HIS political arm (OFA) to be competing with Clinton for resources, and we’re not just talking about financial resources.

*** Obama’s back from vacation: Meanwhile, that current occupant of the White House is back from his weeklong-plus vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. At 2:15 pm ET, he meets with lead financial regulators to discuss the reforms to the financial industry after its collapse five years ago. Per the White House, “Participating in the meeting will include the Comptroller of the Currency, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and the chairs of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the National Credit Union Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).” This meeting with financial regulators is essentially about the WH pushing for speedier implementation of Dodd-Frank. Later this week, on Thursday and Friday, Obama hits the road for a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania, where he’ll talk about the economy.

*** Why cutting off Egypt’s aid is easier said than done: Of course, the unrest in Egypt remains another issue Obama and the White House are watching. While more and more U.S. politicians are calling for the U.S. to cut off the $1.5 billion in aid in Egypt after its military’s violence there, NBC’s Richard Engel provided a good explanation on “Meet the Press” why cutting off that aid is easier said than done. “The Camp David Accords, brokered by the United States, the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, says, in principle, that U.S. aid should be commensurate between from Washington to Israel and from Washington to Egypt. And does the United States really want to be the first country that breaks the spirit of the Camp David Accords? “ Engel said. “Also, does Washington really want to back the Muslim Brotherhood?... Do we want to be with the military, or do we want to be with the Brotherhood? Israel doesn't think we should drop the military and side with the Brotherhood. Neither does Saudi Arabia, neither does Jordan, neither does the UAE.” For every dollar the U.S. could withhold from Egypt, right now, it would be replaced quickly by the Saudis and the Gulf States. It’s yet another reason why the U.S. ability to exert influence is so limited. Bottom line: The old foreign policy mantra of simply trying and having a relationship with whoever wins takes precedent. It’s not elegant, and it certainly isn’t representing democratic ideals. The question is whether this ‘70s/80s era of foreign policy (realpolitick) is workable in the 21st Century.

*** Christie’s a shoo-in for re-election when his state’s unemployment rate is 8.7%: During the 2012 presidential race, reporters and commentators scrutinized every single monthly jobs report, as well as the trajectory of the nation’s unemployment rate. Indeed, most of us were forced to become amateur economists. Less than a year later, however, Gov. Chris Christie (R) is poised to easily win re-election in New Jersey -- and plans to use it as a springboard for a potential 2016 presidential candidacy, per yesterday’s New York Times -- when the state’s unemployment rate stands at 8.7%, well above the nation’s average (7.4%). In fact, just only states in the country have an unemployment rate HIGHER than New Jersey’s: Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Then again, if the 2012 race taught us anything, it’s that the unemployment rate isn’t the end-all, be-all of elections.

*** Christie to hit the ground running after November: Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the aforementioned New York Times piece on Christie is that his possible presidential bid essentially begins the day after Election Day 2013. “If he prevails in November, he will be handed a big national platform — the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association. The position will give him a reason, and ample time, to travel the country, meet with activists and candidates, and raise unlimited money for the association, freed from federal and state regulations that limit him as governor from seeking contributions from those that do business with the state,” the paper writes. “Early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, are holding governors’ races next year, so Mr. Christie will surely visit. And he will ultimately get to play the role of political Santa Claus inside the Republican Party, distributing millions in campaign cash to grateful governors and would-be governors.” It’s possible that while Hillary Clinton doesn’t want a long primary campaign, Christie may need it. It’s going to take time for him to repair his image with many conservatives.

*** Scott Walker on “Morning Joe”: But Christie might not be the only GOP governor who runs in 2016. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appeared on “Morning Joe” this morning, and he sure sounded like someone who’s thinking about ’16. “The governors and state leaders, we're more optimistic than our friends in Washington -- we’re not just against something, we’re laying out a plan, we’re laying out a vision, people gravitate to that,” he said. More: “In addition to optimism and relevance is courage, having the courage to act. And I think unfortunately a lot of Americans look at Washington and don’t think anyone's had the courage to do anything they need.”

*** McAuliffe defends GreenTech: In this year’s other gubernatorial race -- in Virginia -- Terry McAuliffe (D) penned a Washington Post op-ed defending his record at GreenTech, which has been a sore spot for him in his race against Ken Cuccinelli (R). He stated that he’s never been contacted by the Securities and Exchange Commission’ inquiry into GreenTech; he defended the estimated 100 employees who work for the firm (“that’s about 100 jobs that would not have existed if we had not taken a risk on this company”); and he said he’s hopeful that GreenTech eventually becomes successful. But admitting that the firm employs just 100 people and hoping that it becomes successful are hardly ringing endorsements for someone who has cast himself as a businessman and job creator. Meanwhile, the McAuliffe camp has a new TV ad hitting Cuccinelli on the McDonnell-Star Scientific scandal.

*** McDonnell’s attorneys meet with prosecutors: Finally, there’s one more piece of big news out of Virginia: “Attorneys for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, will spend Monday locked in separate hours-long meetings trying to convince federal prosecutors that the first couple should not be charged in the gifts scandal that has dominated state politics,” the Washington Post reports. “Federal authorities have been investigating whether McDonnell (R) agreed to take official actions to aid nutritional supplement company Star Scientific while accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and money from its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. The central issues for prosecutors are what precisely McDonnell may have said or offered to Williams on his own and how much the governor knew about his wife’s acceptance of gifts from Williams and her actions to help his company just as Star was launching a new product.”

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