Is Hillary Clinton trying to distance herself from Obama?

In interviews Tuesday, Hillary Clinton seemed to draw distinctions between herself and the White House – on issues involving immigration and Iraq, for instance. This could be important for a presidential run.

CNN/AP
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during CNN's Town Hall interview on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in New York.

Is Hillary Rodham Clinton moving to distance herself from President Obama? It sure sounded like that during her Tuesday interview marathon on CNN and Fox. At various points in the day’s chatfest, Ms. Clinton seemed to make an effort to draw distinctions between herself and the White House on hot-button issues.

On immigration, for instance, she took a harder line than the administration has on the increasing number of undocumented children who are sneaking across the border without an adult. The former secretary of State said the United States needs to make it clear that such kids don’t get a free pass to stay just because they make it into the country.

“We don’t want to send a message contrary to our laws or encourage more to come,” Clinton said during an hour-long CNN town-hall event broadcast from the Newseum in Washington.

On Syria, Clinton sounded more interventionist than the Obama White House, saying that her feeling is the US should have armed Syrian rebels “you know, two-plus years ago.”

On Iraq, she questioned the wisdom of working with Iran to try to keep the Iraqi government from crumbling under an onslaught of militant Sunni Islamists. (The administration has explored the possibility of Iranian involvement in Iraq but hasn’t committed to anything.)

“I am not prepared to say that we go in with Iran right now, until we have a better idea what we’re getting ourselves into,” Clinton said.

Asked on a later Fox News interview whether she agreed with Mr. Obama that the alleged IRS targeting of conservative nonprofits for tax-status review is a “phony” scandal, Clinton demurred.

“Anytime the IRS is involved, for many people, it’s a real scandal,” she said.

Conservative pundits in particular seemed impressed by Clinton’s ability to move away from current administration policy. Some thought she was shifting slightly to the right in the process.

“All in all, her opponents were given no new ammunition, but supporters of President Obama were put on notice that she will continue to distance herself from his policies in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways,” writes John Fund at the right-leaning National Review.

Look, this is unsurprising. Clinton is her own person – and a highly experienced policy wonk, at that. She’s not going to agree with everything that Obama has done, and she needs to make that clear to voters to counteract incumbent fatigue.

Drawing distinctions between yourself and the administration you served is important if you’re trying to follow in its Oval Office footsteps. Just ask Hubert Humphrey, who as a presidential candidate in 1968 got stuck trying to shake Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War.

And remember, if she runs for president, it does not appear as if winning the nomination of her party will be a problem. She’s so far ahead that possible competitor Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley can’t find her on his iPhone’s Google Maps. No, she can actually focus on the general election to some extent, meaning she can already begin shifting toward the center – the classic campaign move that most candidates can’t manage until the nomination is wrapped up.

That’s a move she may need to make. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday shows that she’s hardly a juggernaut in the context of the entire electorate. Americans are split, with 38 percent saying they will definitely or probably vote for her and 37 percent saying they definitely or probably won’t.

While virtually all other possible candidates of both parties would still envy her standing, the NBC/WSJ numbers show “Hillary isn’t a sure bet for the White House in 2016,” writes the NBC News “First Read” crew on Wednesday.

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