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Is Obama an Obstacle to Clinton’s ’16 Plans?

Politico provides a late entry into the understatement-of-the-year competition for straight news, reporting that Hillary Clinton “is not actively trying to suppress” the speculation that she will run for president in 2016. It’s true enough, but it might be more accurate to note that she is throwing brushback pitches even at non-candidates who have insisted they’re not considering running but have supporters who want them to run, like Elizabeth Warren.

In other words, she is pretty much already running. As Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick reported over the weekend, the Clintons are working to repair ties with black voters after the 2008 primary competition against Barack Obama. (Though the press would have you think otherwise, it was the Clinton duo, not John McCain, who tried to use Obama’s race against him that year.) In their story, Martin and Chozick–who keep finding genuinely interesting angles to the looming 2016 race–write that the Clintons see black voters as their hedge against any other challenger (though they seem to have Warren in mind) since they won’t be running against Obama again:

This task has taken on new urgency given the Democratic Party’s push to the left, away from the centrist politics with which the Clintons are identified. Strong support from black voters could serve as a bulwark for Mrs. Clinton against a liberal primary challenge should she decide to run for president in 2016. It would be difficult for a progressive candidate, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, to rise if the former first lady takes back the black voters she lost to Mr. Obama and retains the blue-collar white voters who flocked to her.

Because she is already off to the races, she has a challenge: she was a poor secretary of state, and though her term recently ended the only thing many people can remember about it is that aside from her disastrous handling of Benghazi there was nothing worth remembering. And Clinton seems to be well aware of this. In anther Chozick dispatch headlined “Clinton Seeks State Dept. Legacy Beyond That of Globe-Trotter,” Clinton’s supporters fret that the public will correctly remember that all she really did was fly around the world on the taxpayer’s dime:

The struggle to define Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments at the State Department has intensified in recent days as Mr. Kerry and his latest assertive diplomatic effort — a successful push for an agreement with Iran that would temporarily curb the country’s nuclear program — have drawn tough comparisons with Mrs. Clinton.

Freed of any presidential ambitions, Mr. Kerry appears willing to wade into political minefields. He has taken whirlwind trips to the Middle East, revived peace talks with Israel and Palestine and struck a deal with Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. All the activity seemed to provide fresh evidence for those who viewed Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as overly cautious.

In contrast, even when members of Mrs. Clinton’s own party describe her achievements, they tend to point to a lot of miles traveled (956,733 to be exact).

The best part of that story is when Chozick paraphrases Clintonites as follows: “What about her 13 trips to Libya in 2011 to build the coalition that led to the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, they ask.” If Hillary Clinton really wants to talk about her legacy in Libya, I’m guessing her opponents will be more than happy to oblige.

But all this–contrasting her record with the sitting secretary of state, taking credit for current administration “successes” while deflecting blame for the many failures, trying to rebuild ties with Obama’s voter base–brings up another rather obvious obstacle: we’re less than a year into Obama’s second term. Some toes, then, are being stepped on, as Politico reports today:

Obama needs his party’s attention devoted to helping him salvage the final three years of his administration. But Democratic donors and activists say the growing anticipation around a possible Clinton administration three years out could accelerate the president’s arrival at lame duck status. The more Obama is viewed as a has-been, they say, the harder it could be for him to rally the party to fight for his agenda.

This is quite a reasonable concern from Obama’s side of the issue. He is currently at something of a low point in his presidency, with his signature achievement cratering amid revelations that he’s been purposefully misleading the public on his intention to kick them off their health insurance plans, among other false promises and disastrous effects of ObamaCare. Obama may or may not be able to regain enough political capital to right the ship, but if the Democrats start treating someone with political star power as the new leader of the party, it won’t give the president the space and credibility he needs to rally his administration.

And even worse for Obama, Clinton has some incentive to portray him as a failure. ObamaCare has his name on it, and she was already out of the Senate by the time it was voted on. And distracting the political world from the Obama White House means neutralizing the one advantage Vice President Joe Biden would have over Clinton: incumbency. In truth, she will also lose out if ObamaCare continues to be a total disaster, because it will further erode the public’s trust in the Democratic Party’s big-government world view. But a lame-duck presidency gives her a head start. A resuscitated presidency takes the air out of her tires for a few more years.