Bill Clinton says he'll be 'backstage' as Hillary campaigns

Now that Hillary Clinton has finally declared she is running for the Democratic presidential nomination and her campaign is underway, speculation shifts to her husband and what role he will play. Bill Clinton says he will be a "backstage" adviser, for now, and will focus on his charitable work.

Former president is busy being a grandfather and running charitable foundation

Bill Clinton speaks after receiving an award at the King Center in Atlanta in January. The former president says he will play a minimal role in the early stages of his wife's campaign for the Democratic nomination. (Associated Press)

The speculation is finally over and Hillary Clinton is launched on the campaign trail she hopes will lead back to the White House. Now the speculation can shift to the man with whom she shared that house, former president Bill Clinton, and what role he will play in his wife's bid for the Democratic nomination.

Will he be at her side at campaign events? Headlining rallies and fundraisers for her? Will he be deeply involved in plotting strategy? Singing her praises in round after round of media interviews? None of the above, according to Mr. Clinton, at least not for a while.

He told Town & Country magazine, in an article published April 7, that his role "should primarily be as a backstage adviser to her until we get much, much closer to the election."

Bill Clinton taking a back seat? That's not a place he's accustomed to, but perhaps it's an indication that some lessons have been learned since Hillary Clinton's last run at the nomination.
Bill and Hillary Clinton became grandparents in September when their daughter, Chelsea, and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, had a daughter. Bill Clinton says he doesn't think he'd be good at campaigning anymore because he's not mad at anyone: "I'm a grandfather, and I got to see my granddaughter last night, and I can't be mad." (William Regan/Associated Press)

During her failed bid in 2008, Bill injected himself in the campaign and his strong presence rubbed some on Hillary's team the wrong way. He exercised his influence and expressed his opinions forcefully.

As an experienced campaigner, his advice and ideas were welcomed by some, as was his appeal with the crowds. But as the primaries wore on and victory slipped away, he lost favour with some of her strategists.

Clinton's 'not mad' at anyone

Bill grew increasingly protective of Hillary and angry over how the fierce competition with Barack Obama played out. He wasn't perfect at keeping his emotions in check in front of the media, and some felt he was hurting more than helping her campaign in its dying days.

The passing of time and an appointment as secretary of state for Hillary helped heal the rift and bitterness between the Clintons and Obama, and Bill ended up campaigning hard for Obama in 2012. He also helped his party during the mid-term elections this past fall.

Despite alienating some people inside his wife's camp, Bill is widely seen as an asset, a charismatic character who is able to draw and connect with crowds — and get them to open their wallets. How to use his skills this time around is a matter of debate among Clinton's staff, according to a recent New York Times article.

But Clinton has indicated he's not eager to jump back on the campaign trail any time soon. "I've told Hillary that I don't think I'm good [at campaigning] anymore because I'm not mad at anybody. I'm a grandfather, and I got to see my granddaughter last night, and I can't be mad," he said in the Town & Country interview.

Chelsea Clinton had her first child, Charlotte, in September. In addition to carrying out his grandfatherly duties, the Clinton Foundation is keeping the former president busy, and he's not ready to give up that work just because his spouse is trying to become president.

He's passionate about the thousands of projects it carries out around the world and about seeing them first-hand. He recently spent time in Haiti, and more trips are planned in the months ahead.
The former president says he is committed to his work at the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and wants it to continue whether he is involved or not. (Doug Benc/Associated Press)

"So our plan is to spend this whole year working on the foundation, which is, by a good long stretch, the most transparent of all the presidential foundations and more transparent than a lot of other major foundations in the country," he told the magazine.

He made that comment about transparency in the wake of a recent controversy over the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from foreign governments while Hillary was secretary of state and not fully disclosing the details.

Republicans will try to turn the foundation into a liability for the Clintons during the campaign, but Bill is determined to see the work continue, whether he's running the organization or not. He did acknowledge that if his spouse wins the presidency it would affect the foundation's work and would likely prompt some rule changes.

"But we haven't talked about that yet, and I don't think we should. You can't. It's hard for any party to hang on to the White House for 12 years, and it's a long road. A thousand things could happen," he said in the interview.

He may be downplaying expectations for his wife, but she is the overwhelming favourite to win the Democratic nomination and at this point faces no serious competition.

Given that it should be a smooth ride to the nomination, Bill might be comfortable taking that back seat, but it won't stop people from wondering when and if he will sidle up to Hillary in the driver's seat.


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