So what changed? Why does Clinton show up now? I'm going to say: Money! Scott Walker is about to win, about to collect his new mandate, and the Democrats are going to want to raise money off that event. The terrible Scott Walker — now with more power — threatens America! Quick, send money! That's the pitch they want to go out next Wednesday. But how can they do that if they did nothing to help Tom Barrett defeat Scott Walker? The savvy recipient of the quick-send-money email might think: If Scott Walker was so dangerous, why didn't you people do what you could to defeat him when you had the chance? But if the well-loved, charismatic President goes to Wisconsin, that's the one thing people will remember. The clips and quotes of the man can be mobilized for money gathering.
You can watch Clinton's whole speech over here. You can comb through that and see what might prove useful to the Democratic Party as it pursues victory in the fall elections.
But I want to focus on something else, a second theory about why Bill Clinton came to Wisconsin. I'm not convinced Clinton is devoted to the short game of reelecting Obama. I think he might be playing a long game: Hillary 2016. The game of Hillary 2016 can be won in different ways, but one path opens up if Obama loses in 2012. If he loses, why will he have lost? And how would Bill Clinton frame that loss as he plays Hillary 2016?
Bill Clinton might think in terms of Bill Clinton: I won in 1996, because I leveraged myself off the Republican victory in 1994, which is exactly what Obama has failed to do in response to the Republican victory in 2010. Can't you see that potential in Clinton's remarks at the "Tom Barrett" rally?
“This divide-and-conquer, no compromise crowd, if they’d been in control, there never would have been a United States Constitution....Obama hasn't been cooperating with Republicans. He certainly hasn't used Republican power in Congress as a way to rack up credit for some conservative reform the way Bill Clinton did welfare reform. Here's Bill Clinton basking in self-admiration in a NYT op-ed "How We Ended Welfare, Together":
“Cooperation works. Constant conflict is a dead-bang loser and you need to get rid of it,” said Clinton, rattling off incidences of Republicans and Democrats cooperating...
Regarding the politics of welfare reform, there is a great lesson to be learned, particularly in today’s hyper-partisan environment, where the Republican leadership forces bills through Congress without even a hint of bipartisanship. Simply put, welfare reform worked because we all worked together. The 1996 Welfare Act shows us how much we can achieve when both parties bring their best ideas to the negotiating table and focus on doing what is best for the country....The date on that op-ed was 2006. What was Bill Clinton doing in 2006? He was playing a little game called Hillary 2008.
Ten years ago, neither side got exactly what it had hoped for. While we compromised to reach an agreement, we never betrayed our principles and we passed a bill that worked and stood the test of time. This style of cooperative governing is anything but a sign of weakness. It is a measure of strength, deeply rooted in our Constitution and history, and essential to the better future that all Americans deserve, Republicans and Democrats alike.