Posted by lex, on December 10, 2007
The Republican Party has launched its first use of unflattering images of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to motivate voters in two congressional special elections this week, marking the beginning of what could be a year-long barrage of ads that invoke Clinton in an effort to torpedo other Democrats running for office.
Putting the Hillary fright mask on before she’s even won her party’s nomination may seem like a good idea if the goal is to pick up the odd special election here and there. But the Republican Party risks entering into the Democratic Party’s nomination fight in a way it might later come to regret.
Mrs. Clinton had several strengths coming into the primaries, among them the Clinton brand and dedicated elements of the party machinery. She’s also a bare knuckled scrapper, supremely comfortable with manipulating the levers of power. But more crucial to her supporters is a carefully cultured sense of inevitability in the primaries and electability in the national election. They want to win, and they think she can do so for them.
But the “electability” theme blew up in the party’s face in the presidential election of 2004, which the base will no doubt remember in time. Bill Clinton (hisself) stepped up to tarnish the brand a bit with his “I was against the war in Iraq the whole time” remarks. Remarks that he later had to row back from as being, well: Untrue. This served as an unfortunate reminder of a previous decade’s pattern of obfuscations, as well as a general reminder that the brand name comes with baggage, not all of which has been properly weighed and stowed for sea.
Hillary’s attempts to go negative on Barack Obama in response to his rising numbers and what her campaign perceived as attacks from “the boys” were poorly coordinated and lacked focus – Obama easily parried ** Hillary’s “experience” thrust with a charming degree of intelligence and wit, and his anti-war credentials are impeccable, especially as contrasted to the junior senator from New York. This matters to the kind of folks that show up in wintertime primary fights in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Obama’s rise in the Iowa polls – his crowds tend to be far more enthusiastic than HRH’s, by the way – has much reduced her aura of inevitability, without which the apparent virtue of electability shrivels. Without those, Mrs. Clinton’s scrappiness and hard edges may present unflattering associations to a still sharply divided electorate. Obama also polls much better among both independents and Republicans than does Hillary Clinton. They are both smart, but he has a kind of affability that Mrs. Clinton sometimes struggles to communicate.
Given some time to catch up on foreign policy – and November is still a lifetime away – Obama would make a formidable candidate in the national election. In a recent Zogby poll he beats all top Republican candidates, while Mrs. Clinton loses. Nor will Maya Angelou out-do Oprah Winfrey in the celebrity support deathmatch. Jerry Springer or Geraldo! might have been more the thing.
Hillary, it is true, might be the one thing that could shake the Republican base out its post-Bush malaise and “what do we stand for now?” spiritual torpor. But if 2004 showed us anything it showed us you can’t merely run against a candidate your base loathes – you must present someone the rest of the electorate will actually vote for. In any case, she has to win the nomination before any of that negative energy will truly stick, whether that be in a special election or next November.
So. Penny wise and pound foolish.
10-28-20 – Link gone; no replacement found – Ed.