Is the United States inevitably on the path to Hillaryland?
The big debate is on as it becomes clear that despite GOPers’ and Fox News’ continued clamor about Benghazi, Clinton is riding high in polls that match her up against Democrats and Republicans. According to a McClatchy-Marist poll, the former Secretary of State would today handily beat all of her potential Republican challengers, with Rep. Paul Ryan giving her the toughest run (52 percent to 44 percent). Among Democrats, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll gives her a six to one lead over potential party competitors.
So this means you can throw away your new crystal ball? Not quite. If doing well in early polls and looking like a front-runner was a certainty then we would have had President Edwin Muskie, President John Connally, President Rudi Guiliani - and President Hillary Clinton. Amid growing Democratic consensus about Hillary and a circular firing squad in the GOP, Republicans are going after her.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been hammering former President Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior” with Monica Lewinsky, and saying while it isn’t Hillary’s fault, “it’s sometimes hard to separate one from the other” -- an argument bound to insult many women voters. Some conservative talkers now gleefully echo Paul. Republican National Committee chairman Rance Priebus says “everything is on the table” to use against Hillary Clinton, including a “truckload” of negative material.
But the strategy of making Bill Clinton the issue is bound to fail for many reasons. Just a few: under-30 voters who could care less about the 90s, Bill Clinton’s 1990s sexual escapades have lost all shock value, and the fact that there was that teeny weenie thing called “impeachment” which happened -- which ended in Clinton finishing his term with sky-high poll numbers and Hillary Clinton later getting handily elected as New York’s Senator.
A strategy counting on 21st century voters having “Clinton fatigue” may be cheered by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but it’s a creaky strategy that dates back to the end of Bill Clinton’s first Presidential term. The late Christopher Hitchens, who was often highly critical of Hillary Clinton, raised the issue when Hillary ran for President in 2008: “What would it take to break this cheap little spell and make us wake up and inquire what on earth we are doing when we make the Clinton family drama -- yet again -- a central part of our own politics?”
And then there’s that other question. The GOP is abuzz about efforts to try and get former Florida Jeb Bush into the Republican Party 2016 Presidential Nomination Sweepstakes now that “Bridgegate” has turned former-perceived-frontrunner New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into what comedian Bill Maher calls “350 pounds of toast.” Blogger Martin Longman bluntly asked the question this way: “Is Jeb Bush inevitable? Would another Clinton/Bush contest prove that we’re not a representative democracy but a ‘nepotistic oligarchy’?”
Those who argue Hillary Clinton is not inevitable take arguments on why she seemingly is and flip them around. But Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, writing in The Daily Beast, argues the bottom-line reality can be seen in Republican reaction: “From contorted Benghazi conspiracy theories to Rand Paul’s babble about Monica Lewinsky, they are attacking Hillary fiercely because they fear her most. And they should be very, very afraid.”
One reason: Hillary Clinton had a fire in her belly to have a significant impact on the world long before she met her husband. She got in political trouble during his 1992 Presidential campaign by candidly saying about her work as an attorney: “You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”
She may not be inevitable, but those who try to microwave old attacks against her and her husband -- and think they can send her home to bake cookies and have teas -- may find she cooks their political goose. And pundits who underestimate her strengths could find themselves eating crow on election day.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week’s online edition. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joegandelman