It’s always fun watching Bill Clinton torment his fellow Democrats; but as we found in our excavation of The Presidents Club, Obama is certainly not the first president to have to contend with a Surrogate Gone Wild.
There was Adlai Stevenson, freshly nominated in 1952 to challenge the incomparably popular Dwight Eisenhower, having to contend with an impossibly feisty Harry Truman, who just wouldn't seem to go away. Truman, a friend and admirer of Ike’s throughout his presidency, broke ranks in August that year when he concluded that Eisenhower had failed to stand up to the “moral scoundrels” like Joe McCarthy. “I knew him. I trusted him,” Truman confessed to his party faithful in the heat of the campaign. “I thought he might make a good president. But that was a mistake. In this campaign he has betrayed almost everything I thought he stood for. ”
That turned the campaign, the New York Times wrote, into “a bitter Eisenhower-Truman affair,” to the point of overshadowing Stevenson completely.
Of course, Ike still won in a landslide.
Next it was Lyndon Johnson’s turn, to torture Hubert Humphrey during the 1968 campaign. During that summer, Richard Nixon helped convince Johnson that Humphrey was “weak” and “disloyal,” desperate to break with Johnson over Vietnam. “When [Nixon] gets the nomination,” Johnson told an aide, “he may prove to be more responsible than the Democrats.” Humphrey was drowning, no money, no momentum; Johnson at one point refused to campaign for him in Texas. When the vice president proposed a meeting to make amends, he ran late and Johnson refused even to see him. Only late in the campaign, when Johnson came to suspect that Nixon’s camp was secretly sabotaging the Paris Peace talks, did he throw his weight behind Humphrey’s campaign. But by then it was too late.
It’s not only the Democrats who do this: Gerald Ford did not appreciate Nixon making a celebrated return trip to China right in the heat of the 1976 New Hampshire primary, when Ford faced a stiff challenge from Ronald Reagan. Nixon put a similar squeeze on George H.W. Bush in 1992.
But Democrats seem particularly adept at it. These stories, and a lot more, is all part of the Club's astonishing 70 year run.
I personally think that the wily Clinton has been up to something far more interesting and urgent -- and far more partisan -- than needling Obama or even setting the table for a possible run by his wife in 2016.
But I will save those thoughts for later today.