One time master GOP strategist Karl Rove knew exactly what he was doing when he dropped the lug, suggesting that Hillary Clinton may be suffering from brain damage. The predictable quickly happened. Rove came under fierce and withering attack from the Clinton camp, Democratic Party officials and some in the media for his pseudo medical diagnosis of Clinton. Then Rove kind of, sort of walked it back, claiming that he didn't say she had brain damage; just that a potential presidential contender's health is a legitimate issue for public debate.
Rove got exactly what he wanted. That is massive media attention, a sharp rebuke from his sworn political enemies, a rejoinder from Clinton, and most importantly, a plant in the public mind that Clinton's may not be physically, or worse, mentally fit for the White House. Planting this kind of hatchet innuendo fits neatly into the GOP attack plan on Hillary. It's almost certain that she'll run. And despite some fluctuation up and down in her poll popularity, she's still far and away the surest best to be the Democratic presidential nominee, and just as likely to bag the presidency, given the weak, fractious and polarizing cast of name contenders that the GOP has bandied about as 2016 White House prospects. GOP leaders have long known that and wasted no time the second after Obama's re-election win and her departure from the State Department to kick their campaign of lies and vilification against Hillary into high gear.
This has included dredging up every salacious tidbit of old and new dirt it can against her to torpedo her candidacy even before it's an official candidacy.
The GOP isn't banking solely on piling dirt on Hillary to render her candidacy stillborn. They also bank that the supposed baggage that she carries renders her an astonishingly divisive candidate. The checklist of the trumped-up scandals of the past, from Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal (which conveniently resurfaced again, to much media fanfare with Lewinsky's sudden need to bear her chest on her Bill affair), her tout of health care reform, which was the prelude to the much harangued Affordable Care Act, and, most importantly, her alleged cover-up of Benghazi.
There was no doubt that the first chance the GOP got, it would seize on a real or manufactured Obama foreign policy flub and make her their hard target. Benghazi proved to be the alleged flub, and the GOP pounced. The blame game against her for the attack refuses to cease, but will pick up more steam with the formation of a 12-member committee by the GOP controlled house to investigate the Obama administration's handling of the attacks. The committee couldn't care less about what Obama did or didn't do in the attack, only Hillary's role. The aim is the same and that's to embarrass and discredit her not because of her alleged missteps as Secretary of State, but as a 2016 presidential candidate.
This is where Rove is especially useful as part of the multi-front GOP assault on Hillary. He holds no public office. He sits on no official GOP campaign committee. He is, for all intents and purposes, a private citizen who can say what he thinks about politicians and their campaigns. No GOP top elected official would dare hit low and dirty by saying that a widely admired and respected potential presidential candidate is potentially a mental loose cannon before they've even declared themselves a candidate. As rotten as the attacks are, there's some evidence that they are having the desired effect. A recent Fox News poll showed that her favorability rating had slid some more. This mostly confirms the slide in voter favorability toward her registered in polls a year ago.
Though this poll, as others, did not single out any one factor to explain the downtick in her favorability rating, the one intangible thing is the doubt many voters have: That her past, her views and her political style, would mark her as a relentless target for GOP attacks once in the White House, and thus hamstring her effectiveness in getting things done.
They would spend endless hours debating and finger-pointing either Hillary or Congress or both for the sorry state of affairs that again produced a politically fractured government. The GOP will also hammer hard on the Obama years and connect her with his administration. The issues such as the budget, spending, health care, regulatory reform, foreign policy issues that the GOP waged war against Obama on almost certainly will be the same issues that it will do battle with Clinton on.
Rove did not say any of this about Hillary. His preferred method of attack is simply a personal low road innuendo. Rest assured, that given the GOP's obsessive terror of her as the one Democrat who if she runs can win, it won't be the last from Rove.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: @earlhutchinson