Magazine article The Spectator

A Third Term for Bill Clinton

Magazine article The Spectator

A Third Term for Bill Clinton

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

EIGHT years ago Bill Clinton did something no successful candidate for the presidency has ever done in the history of the modern New Hampshire primary: he lost. In 1988, Bush won New Hampshire. And, before that, so did Reagan and Carter, Nixon, LBJ, JFK and Ike. But on primary night in 1992 Governor Clinton lost to a guy from Massachusetts called Paul Tsongas, now dead and, alas, largely forgotten. By rights, it should have been Clinton's presidential ambitions that were dead and forgotten. He got 26 per cent of the vote.

In the Democratic caucuses in Iowa last Monday, Bill Bradley got 35 per cent, more than any challenger to the establishment candidate has ever received. For his pains, he was widely perceived by all informed commentators to be roadkill. In the crowded, six-man Republican field, George W. Bush won 41 per cent of the vote, more than any GOP candidate has ever got in Iowa. It was agreed by the media that he was felt to have 'underperformed'. But, on the basis of his losing 26 per cent in 1992, Bill Clinton went out and declared victory; the self-anointed 'Comeback Kid' pronounced himself the real winner the candidate who, after a month of allegations of draft-dodging and government jobs for mistresses, had come from behind and swept triumphantly to ... er, a little less behind, The media decided to string along with this story, and in November they helped make William Jefferson Clinton the only man in half a century to win the White House after losing in the Granite State.

New Hampshire in 1992 should have warned us that the normal rules of electoral politics don't apply to Bill Clinton. Or, as my own senator, Bob Smith, put it after dutifully casting his vote to nail Slick Willie's puffy-cracker butt in last year's impeachment trial: 'He's won. He always wins. Let's move on.' But, for some reason, I never learn. I always forget Bob's wise words. In 1992 the Clinton campaign pinned 'It's the economy, stupid' up in their war rooms. If I'd stuck 'Clinton always wins' up on my wall, I'd have got everything right in the last eight years.

Of course, as with every other entry in the Clinton lexicon, it depends what the meaning of the word 'win' is. Most of the time Clinton, in the technical sense, loses, as he did in New Hampshire, and in the 1994 and 1998 mid-terms. The latter was a classic Clinton defeat: the Republicans won and the Democrats were reduced to their lowest Congressional representation in 70 years. But somehow it got passed off as a Clinton triumph and a massive repudiation of the GOP, and Newt Gingrich wound up having to resign.

So, to work out what will happen this coming November, tape 'Clinton always wins' above the desk. True, he's not actually running this year, due to a minor detail known as the 22nd Amendment. But he'd like to stick around. For Clinton, winning means not going away. He's one of the great political Houdinis of all time, but with a unique twist: he's an escapologist who doesn't want to escape. You bring the trunk up out of the tank of water, you take the chains off, you break the locks - and he's still in there. Clinton is a vaudeville act with no big finish. If Dubya wins, if the Republicans hold on to the House of Representatives, if Rudy Giuliani is the next senator from New York, the Clinton era will be deemed to have ended and he'll have to skulk back to Arkansas and spend his days browsing the adult section of his presidential library. But, if next January he's walking out of the White House kibitzing with his buddy Al, if he's congratulating the Democrats on taking back the House, if he's dancing with the radiant Senator Rodham at the inaugural ball, he'll have won his biggest victory of all: the Clinton third term. He's already been musing openly about running for the Senate from Arkansas in 2002, and friends have pointed out that in the year 2043 he'll still be younger than his fellow sex-fiend, nonagenarian Senator Strom Thurmond, is now. …

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