It is time to pull Bill Clinton off the campaign trail he never should have gotten on.
Yes, the former president is still a “rock star” in Democratic circles. Yes, he still has rhetorical and strategic skills that may play a role in the future campaigns.
But the results from Saturday’s South Carolina primary confirm that Bill Clinton is doing the presidential prospects of his wife a good deal more harm than good.
Hillary Clinton must take control of her campaign. She must be the unequivocal and unquestioned face of her campaign. And she can only do that if Bill Clinton is moves out of the limelight he shared with his wife in New Hampshire and stole in South Carolina.
After Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in Nevada last Saturday, the buzz was that the former first lady would be in the running in South Carolina. Sure, she was behind. But she had momentum. And, while there was a flurry of speculation about the prospect that she might win, Clinton did not really need to win the primary in a state where Obama has held a poll lead for some time. She simply needed a credible finish — something in the range of 45 percent of the vote.
With strong support from white woman and substantial backing from African-American women, a solid campaign organization, big endorsements and plenty of money, as well as the “sense of inevitability” that had been somewhat restored by her Nevada win, Clinton was well positioned to secure the finish she needed.
She didn’t get it.
She didn’t get close to it.
Instead, Obama beat her by a massive 2-1 margin, with 55 percent of the vote to just 27 percent for Clinton. Indeed, Clinton had to hustle hard in the final days to hold off a surge by John Edwards, who won a better-than-expected 18 percent of the vote and several delegates.
What happened? There will be a dozen lines of spin. Only one matters:
Clinton relied too heavily on her husband, former President Bill Clinton. And he blew it, badly.
In the final week, where the South Carolina race really played out, the contest was transformed from a contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton into something else altogether. While Obama effectively lived in the state during the period, Clinton took her campaign to a number of February 5 primary states.
She left Bill Clinton behind to dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s.” It was a task he should have been up for. Though there was always speculation about how Clinton would strike a proper balance between his roles as former president and campaigning spouse of a presidential contender, the theory was that it would be easiest for him in a state like South Carolina, where the former Arkansas governor would be on familiar ground.
Instead, Bill Clinton turned in one of the more embarrassing performances in the recent history of American electoral politics. Self-absorbed, angry, petulant and often troubling when he attempted to address racial concerns, he seemed — wittingly or not — to be reopening old wounds in a region where the debates about the flying of the Confederate flag remain unsettled.
“Bill Clinton is a huge loser in this,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein, a biographer of Hillary Clinton who suggested last night that Bill Clinton had “squandered his post-presidency” with his crude campaigning in South Carolina.
South Carolinians confirmed that assessment.
Of the 58 percent of South Carolina voters who told exit pollsters that Bill Clinton’s campaigning on behalf of his wife was an important factor in the primary contest, two thirds voted for Obama or Edwards.
Only 37 percent of those who attached importance to Bill Clinton’s aggressive presence in their state over the past week voted for Hillary Clinton. Forty-eight percent voted for Barack Obama, while 15 percent voted for John Edwards.
The Clinton campaign can spin that any way it wants.
But Carl Bernstein is right when he says of Bill Clinton: “the luster of this beloved figure is off.”
It is time for Bill Clinton to go home to Chappaqua and let his wife mount the honorable campaign that his presence on the trail leading up to Saturday’s primary made impossible. No, Bill Clinton is not the sum of what is wrong with the Clinton campaign. But he more burden than benefit at this point. And to think otherwise would be to deny the numbers from South Carolina.