Huma Abedin, the wife of scandal-ridden candidate for New York City mayor Anthony Weiner, has decided to take an "extended vacation" from her position as an aide to Hillary Clinton. Abedin, who has had a long professional relationship with Clinton, is clearly in a difficult place in her personal life so her desire to have some time for herself can certainly be understood and respected. This decision will have little impact on Weiner's fast collapsing mayoral campaign as the damage there is already done, but it may be the first sign that the Weiner scandal is beginning to have an effect on Clinton.
Clinton remains the subject of intense speculation regarding her plans for 2016. If she decides to seek her party's nomination for president, she will be a very strong front-runner and a very formidable general election candidate against any Republican. However, it is not impossible that spillover from the Weiner scandal could begin to change that. Obviously, Weiner's bizarre behavior has nothing to do with Clinton herself, but the combination of the close relationship between Clinton and Abedin and the nature of the scandal itself could hurt Clinton.
Even if Weiner and Abedin had no connection to Clinton, it would be hard to watch Abedin's support for her husband and not think of Hillary Clinton's support for President Bill Clinton during the various sex related scandals during and before the Clinton presidency. Hillary Clinton has a long record of accomplishment since she and her husband left the White House. Should she run for president, that is the record she will want to highlight. Anything that brings attention away from that record and back to the worst periods of the Clinton presidency is bad for Hillary Clinton. That is precisely what this scandal is doing now.
Of course, the first primary of the 2016 nominating season is still almost 30 months away, so this issue may recede from public attention by then. It would certainly fade away were it not for Abedin's connection to Clinton, which has the potential to give it a greater impact. The relationship between the two women brings the scandal closer to Clinton, but it also is a reminder of many of the things about the Clinton presidency that many people don't like. The strange sex scandals and constant drama surrounding those scandals are, unfortunately, part of that.
The real damage to Hillary Clinton is not likely to emerge from Anthony Weiner playing fast and loose with his smartphone, but could emerge if this scandal this leads to increased scrutiny on Abedin herself. Abedin's consulting work while on maternity leave, an episode which would have received more scrutiny in the mayor's race had Weiner not been part of much bigger scandals, is, however, more directly related to Clinton. In many respects, Abedin's consulting work while still an employee of the State Department is not a very big deal. It is not all that unusual and does not involve very large amounts of money. However, it is consistent with a narrative about the Clintons that goes all the way back to Whitewater. Again, those issues were largely driven by Republican partisanship, but it remains the case that the Clintons are viewed by many Americans as having a flexible sense of ethics, particularly on matter regarding money and income.
Every time Abedin or the press reminds us of how close she is with the Clintons, it is a reminder of the ethical problems with which the Clintons themselves wrestled throughout much of the 1990s. Since becoming a senator and later Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been largely free of these problems, but Abedin could drag all that back into public view.
It is almost impossible to read a piece about Abedin and not see her relationship to Clinton mentioned, as if that alone is a credential. That, however, is also part of the problem for Clinton -- not just because of Abedin specifically, but because it is a reminder of the 1990s when influence and status in the Democratic Party was measured almost entirely by proximity to the Clintons. This continued until Barack Obama defeated Clinton in the 2008 nominating season. Obama's victory was, among other things, a sign, that despite the space occupied by the Clintons within the party, that was only an elite phenomena, while many constituencies within the party had grown tired of the the story of who was and was not friends of the Clintons. By 2016, Hillary Clinton will have been a national figure for almost a quarter of a century. The success of her campaign will be determined by how and what part of those years are best remembered. Weiner and Abedin threaten to drag those memories in the wrong direction for many voters.