Was Hillary Clinton dinged by President Obama 'new car smell' remark?

President Obama joked on Sunday that Americans won't want to hear from him during the 2016 presidential election because he's lost his 'new car smell.' Where does that leave Hillary Rodham Clinton?

David Zalubowski/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to a crowd during a campaign stop to promote Democrats in re-election bids in the east Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo., Oct. 21. Many of Ms. Clinton supporters are holding out for a her to run for president in 2016.

Did President Obama inadvertently highlight one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s biggest 2016 weaknesses during his Sunday interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week”?

It’s certainly possible. At the least the collective members of Hillaryland may have winced when they saw the clip of the president’s words.

The moment in question occurred when Mr. Obama referred to what voters might want in the next chief executive of the United States, whoever that might be.

“I think the American people, you know, they’re going to want that new car smell. You know, they want to drive something off the lot that doesn’t have as much mileage as me,” said the president.

Mr. Stephanopoulos got a chuckle out of that, as did a lot of viewers. It was a pretty good image, with Obama portraying himself as the used car with a few dings that will soon be traded in for a new model.

And he’s probably right, in theory. After a president has served two terms in office the public starts to yearn for someone who is personally and politically different than the incumbent. At least, that’s the pattern in recent decades. Over the last 65 years only George H.W. Bush has succeeded a two-term president of the same party.

But here’s the obvious problem: in some ways, Ms. Clinton does have as much mileage as Obama, politically-speaking.

She’s been in the national eye longer. She’s lived in the White House longer, though she wasn’t president. She’s operated at the highest level of US politics longer. And she’s older.

Lots of Republicans were quick to point this out.

“While the president said that he thinks Clinton would be a ‘great president,’ she might not thank him for suggesting that the voters are thirsting for less-used political goods,” writes Katherine Connell at the right-leaning National Review Online.

Plus, Clinton may not be Obama incarnate, but she served in Obama’s Cabinet. She’s a member of the same party (duh). The GOP will do all it can to promote the idea that a Clinton presidency would be Obama’s third term.

For her part, Clinton will surely pivot away from Obama, highlighting policy differences, while stressing that the first female US president would be something pretty new.

But maybe she shouldn’t over-think this. Al Gore faced this problem when running after two terms of the Bill Clinton presidency and he tied himself in knots thinking about how the electorate might react to some of his positions, points out Nancy LeTourneau at the political blog of the left-leaning Washington Monthly.

The result: a lack of authenticity that might have been more damaging than what he was trying to avoid.

So Clinton shouldn’t run as the anti-Obama, in this view. She should run as herself.

“If Hillary Clinton can find her core and speak to us from that place, she can toss out all the advice she’s getting from folks about how to position herself vis a vis President Obama and his coalition,” writes Ms. LeTorneau.

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