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.”
Basically, a president who makes a one-term pledge becomes a lame duck the day he or she is sworn into office. “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.”
In part because of concerns about his age and previous health struggles, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was forced to issue an on-the-record denial that he was considering a one-term pledge during his last run for the presidency. (He was 72 at the time and had battled skin cancer.)
There was some mild speculation that the last Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, was mulling a one-term pledge after his campaign manager compared a possible Romney presidency to that of one-term President James Polk.
(In an emailed statement to The Root, former Romney campaign senior adviser Kevin Madden wrote of the so-called one-term pledge: “It’s a gimmick that the media loves and that pundits who’ve never once set foot inside a campaign headquarters obsess over, but it’s still just a gimmick. Running for president requires a candidate to have a long-term vision for the country. That’s what makes a one-term pledge seem so unserious to me.”)
But one point the Democratic consultants interviewed seem to agree on is that Hillary Clinton is an exceptional case, with exceptional name recognition and exceptional qualifications. With few other Democratic women considered as viable for the presidency in the near future as she is likely to be, Clinton’s desire for sleep, relaxation and normalcy may be trumped by the desire of women — particularly fellow feminists — to finally break America’s ultimate glass ceiling. And as polling indicates, Clinton is the woman best positioned to do it in four years.
Perhaps serving one term would represent the ideal compromise: Women get their history-maker, and Clinton gets her life back in four years rather than eight. But according to the experts, this is a possible recipe for positioning Clinton to be a successful presidential candidate — not, ultimately, a successful president.
Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent.