Hillary Clinton: 1-Term President?

If she runs in 2016 and pledges to serve only four years, will she seal her chances? Strategists weigh in.

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But a one-term pledge "will make it tough to govern," he also said.

This sentiment was shared by others.

"As a campaign strategy, it can be beneficial by making the candidate appear more selfless and willing to do what's right regardless of the politics," said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Wesley Clark. "It's a campaign tactic that could be beneficial in the short term, but it would make life harder governing in the long term."

The Plight of the Lame Duck

Cary Covington, an associate professor at the University of Iowa who specializes in presidential politics and Congress, explained that making a one-term pledge "basically undercuts a lot of a president's political leverage. In negotiations with interest groups or Congress, there is an extended timeline where a president can say, 'I need your help now, and I will be there to help you down the road. Or, if you don’t help me now, I can make you pay later.' If they promise one term, they are undermining a lot of their bargaining power."

Goldman summarized the one-term-pledge dilemma this way: "People think you will be able to be fearless and won't make decisions [based on worries about] re-election. But the problem is that the people you work with [in Congress] don't have that luxury." Goldman explained that there would be members of the Senate and the House who, worried about their own re-elections, might be less inclined to cooperate with a president already on his or her way out the door shortly after being elected.

Basically, a president who makes a one-term pledge becomes a lame duck the day he or she is sworn into office. I like to say, "You're never as strong as when you're running for re-election, and you're never as weak as when you win it," Goldman said. "The day Obama lost power is the day he won re-election." Goldman explained that plenty of policy foes may know they cannot wait a full eight years for a regime change in order to get their way, but they know they can probably wait two to four years.

Smikle noted that these foes might not just be from the opposing party, either. "Every Democrat may not stand behind [a Democratic president]," he said, and not just because they are worried about their own re-election. "Some may essentially begin running to replace you as president the day you take office, since they know you are only planning to be there one term."

Simmons concurred, noting, "There's a reason you hear this one-term idea floated during campaigns. Campaign strategists talk about saying that all the time, but the people who are actually responsible for helping the person govern shoot it down."

The Reality of the Campaign

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