Could Rupert Murdoch make Hillary Clinton the next president?

Imagine a day next year when The Wall Street Journal endorses Hillary Clinton for president.

I know what you’re thinking: “A cold day in Hades when that happens.”

Then imagine a day when a President Hillary Clinton, contemplating the launch of another preventive war somewhere in the world, calls Rupert Murdoch to talk things over.

Now you’re thinking I’ve lost my mind.

But consider that Murdoch is about to buy the Journal. Then consider the hand Murdoch had in making Tony Blair the British prime minister ten years ago. And finally, consider the revelation this week that Blair rang up Murdoch three times in the days just before the launch of the Iraq war.

Still sound implausible? OK, I’ll walk you through it.

Tony Blair owes his political career in no small part to Rupert Murdoch. It was the endorsement of Murdoch’s papers – the highbrow Times and the lowbrow Sun – that convinced many British conservatives the “New Labour” party was for real and had cast aside its socialist past (not that it was any paragon of free-market virtue, of course).

Still, it was a bit of a shock to see that in documents made public this week, he called upon Murdoch as a virtual confidant in the nine days leading up to the invasion of Iraq (although we still don’t know exactly what they talked about):

The calls took place on March 11, 13 and 19, 2003, according to a document released to Lord Avebury, who spent three years seeking access to the information….

Lance Price, a press secretary for Blair in 1998-2001, described the close relationship between the two men in his book “The Spin Doctor’s Diary,” referring to Murdoch as “the 24th member of Cabinet.”

“His presence was always felt. No big decision could ever be made … without taking account of the likely reaction of three men, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch,” he wrote.

Now let’s jump over to this side of the pond and consider how Murdoch’s New York Post (for now, his only U.S. print property) and Sen. Clinton have been cozying up.

The relationship started out rocky enough. The Post went all out against her during her initial campaign in 2000. But this is an instance where 9/11 really did change everything:

The politics of September 11 and Iraq put the apparently hawkish Clinton on, from the editors’ point of view, the right side of World War Three. “The thing that changed was 9/11,” says Bob McManus, who runs the paper’s editorial page. “She began to exhibit some leadership qualities that we didn’t see that were there.”

Less than four months after 9/11, the paper opined, “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been in the United States Senate for a year, less five days, and the world hasn’t come to an end.  OK, so we were wrong. More than that, we’re pleasantly surprised in many respects by the former first lady’s performance so far.”

Too, Clinton and her team have gone to great lengths to court both The Post and Murdoch himself. The senator and Murdoch have lunched together, and the senator’s husband, the former president, has made overtures as serious as recruiting Murdoch to take part in a foreign policy conference and as silly as recording a birthday tribute to Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

By the time she ran for reelection in 2006, she won the Post’s endorsement.

So with Murdoch about to take the reins of the Journal, is a presidential endorsement in 2008 possible?

It won’t take long for clues to emerge. Former Reagan adviser and Bush 41 Treasury official Bruce Bartlett wrote in early May that depending on circumstances, Clinton could look not only palatable to conservatives, but desirable:

At some point, politically sophisticated conservatives will have to recognize that no Republican can win in 2008 and that their only choice is to support the most conservative Democrat for the nomination. Call me crazy, but I think that person is Hillary Clinton. Given the views of the Democratic base and the enormous unpopularity of the Iraq War, it is a real act of courage for her to steadfastly refuse to say her vote for the war was wrong. Of course, like all Democrats and most Americans, she opposes the war today and favors a rapid pullout.

That is why the easy thing for Sen. Clinton to do would be to just thrown in the towel, admit her vote was wrong and move on. And that’s why it is an act of courage for her to refuse to do so. If conservatives weren’t so blinded by their hatred for her, this would be obvious.

On economics, it is reasonable to assume that Sen. Clinton’s policies would not be altogether different from Bill Clinton’s. This is not a bad thing. On trade, his record was outstanding, and on the budget was far better than George W. Bush’s. While Clinton raised taxes in 1993, it should be remembered that he cut them in 1997, including a cut in the capital gains tax. On regulatory policy, Clinton was no worse than the current administration and probably better on net.

All told, this is a platform Murdoch would find more than agreeable. After the sale, and leading up to the primaries, look for the Journal editorial page to go light on Clinton, and hard on Obama, Edwards, and her other opponents for the Democratic nomination.

And if, come the fall, the election of the Republican nominee is less than a sure thing, Murdoch will know where to cast his lot… and the Journal editorial page will cast its ballot for Hillary.

And who knows? If George W. Bush doesn’t try to effect regime change in Tehran before leaving office, Clinton might well take it upon herself — after a phone call or three to Rupert.

The Daily Reckoning