Increasingly you get the impression that if the Republican presidential candidates didn’t have Hillary Clinton, they wouldn’t have a campaign. “Obsession” might be too strong a word but the Republicans just can’t let go of the former first lady.
Parsing the stump musings of the top GOP candidates they all repeatedly make the same boast: “I am not Hillary Clinton.” Since they’re all male, this blinding assertion of the obvious probably doesn’t come as much of a news flash to even the most inattentive Republican voter. And it’s a hoary political maxim that you should campaign as who you are rather than who you are not, as attractive as not being Hillary Clinton may sound.
The Washington Post noted that mentions of Hillary in the GOP debates have gone from none on Aug. 5, to one on Sept. 5, to 13 on Oct. 5 to 29 on Oct. 21. That the Hillary references more than doubled in just under three weeks is a little freaky.
A Republican pollster and consultant told the Post, “The competition inside the GOP for who’s the most anti-Hillary is going to pay dividends. Looking for that piece of anti-Hillary energy is what you’re seeing right now.”
Maybe it will pay dividends but maybe not.
Right now the GOP candidates are beating Hillary about the head and shoulders for her support, along with other New York lawmakers, of a $1 million earmark for a Woodstock museum. This is clearly home-state pork and kind of funny and it did prompt one of the best lines of the campaign so far — ex-POW John McCain’s rejoinder that he couldn’t make Woodstock because “I was tied up at the time.”
Still, by dwelling repeatedly on Woodstock, the GOP candidates are not only making points about her but about themselves: They’re old and they’re square. Someone born in the year of the Woodstock festival is now 38, and it’s not just liberal Democrats hoping The Who go on tour next year.
Normally, the party that holds the White House campaigns on their president’s record. But let us eavesdrop on a Republican strategist advising a candidate:
“Let’s see. Two wars with no end in sight. Record spending. Katrina. Nine trillion dollar national debt. A huge new federal bureaucracy. Dick Cheney listening on the extension. I think we’ll go with Hillary Clinton. She’s shrill. She’s socialist. She’s overly scripted. And she’s got great name recognition so people will know who we’re talking about.”
This tactic has two potentially fatal drawbacks.
First, it’s a backhanded way of building up her candidacy. The voters might think, “If Hillary Clinton has all these tough-talking guys running scared, maybe there’s more to her than I thought. Anybody as bad as they say might be pretty good.”
It’s as if they’ve already conceded the Democratic nomination to her — and many Republicans have — but also the White House — as some other Republicans have.
Bush’s former top political adviser, Karl Rove, who seems to have carved out a second career bashing Hillary, points out that she comes with a lot of political baggage. But it’s old political baggage, and there’s a danger of scandal nostalgia — Whitewater, the missing papers, the travel office, the cattle futures, the intern. Say what you will about the Clinton White House, it was an entertaining White House.
Build up Hillary Clinton too much by tearing her down and they’ll have to invite her to give the keynote address at the Republican convention.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)