When Bill Clinton takes the stage Tuesday night for his 10th address to a Democratic convention, the ex-president, husband and party standard-bearer will step into a singular role in American history: potential first gentleman.
It isn’t only Hillary Clinton who is breaking a glass ceiling this week. Should she win on Election Day, her husband will become both the first male to be a first spouse and the first former president to reoccupy the White House from the East Wing.
Bill Clinton’s potential new title is perhaps the strangest twist in a political career known for its second acts. After health scares and political missteps, the Comeback Kid, as he was known in his first presidential race, could come back to Washington one last time.
Clinton has been attending Democratic conventions since 1972, when he was a long-haired law student backing South Dakota Sen. George McGovern. His speeches to the convention have been career highs, and lows: His longwinded 1988 address famously drew cheers when he said the words “in conclusion.”
Twenty-four years later, he acted as a powerful validator for President Barack Obama, electrifying the room as the party’s “explainer-in-chief.”
But, said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, “This is different.”
Bill Clinton feels pressure to perform for his wife and make up for a few snafus during her second presidential campaign, including his private chat with Attorney General Loretta Lynch just days before the Justice Department concluded its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account and server as secretary of state.
“This is more personal,” said Podesta, who recalled riding to the convention hall with Clinton as he touched up his 2004 convention address. “This is more about her.”
Bill Clinton wrote the first draft of his Tuesday speech himself before sharing it with the campaign and some of his longtime speechwriters, and was tinkering with it as late as Tuesday afternoon.
Unlike in 2012, when he took listeners on a tour of economic policy, Clinton this time plans to paint a picture of his wife as a longtime liberal advocate for children and families. As he frequently puts it on the campaign trail, he plans to call his wife a “change-maker” who “everything she touched, she made better.”
While the subject of the speech may change, Bill Clinton still wants to be at the center of the action. That’s unlikely to change should his wife become president.
While aides have said he will not get a cabinet post or a setup in the Situation Room, Hillary Clinton has made clear that her closest adviser will remain involved with her administration, saying he’d likely have a role in managing the nation’s economy.
The two frequently talk multiple times a day, say aides, and Clinton is often in touch with top staff on her campaign. He weighs in on important choices, including advocating for Clinton to select Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate.
“I am probably still going to pick the flowers and the china for state dinners,” Hillary Clinton said in a December primary debate. “But I will certainly turn to him as prior presidents have for special missions, for advice and in particular how we’re going to get the economy working.”