Hillary Rodham Clinton is the overwhelming front-runner to be her party's standard-bearer in the 2016 presidential election, and the Republicans know it. Even though she has not announced her intentions, Republicans are already taking political shots at her. But their personal attacks are shrill and feeble, and reveal a party without a vision for the country.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead among likely Democratic presidential candidates. The former first lady has been in the national spotlight for more than two decades. In that time she has been a formidable political presence on the national stage, and has displayed tremendous energy and resilience. Secretary Clinton enjoys great affection and respect from her loyalists, and endures immense disdain from her detractors. While she is a polarizing figure, her overall personal favorability ratings are very high. And her great political skills will make her a strong presidential candidate, should she decide to run.
Republicans fear a Clinton candidacy, in part because they do not have a clear front-runner for their party's nomination. And nearly half the Americans polled in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. Nonetheless, potential GOP candidates are already jockeying for position in the nomination race.
None has been more outspoken than Tea Party favorite Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). And Senator Rand Paul has focused his most recent attacks on Secretary Clinton. Paul pushed back on the charges that Republicans are engaged in a "war on women." "The Democrats can't say, 'We're the great defenders of women's rights in the workplace'...when the leader of their party, the leading fundraiser in the country, is Bill Clinton, who was a perpetrator of that kind of sexual harassment," Paul told C-Span, referring to the Monica Lewinsky affair. He continued, "Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then have the gall to stand up and say, 'Republicans are having a war on women?'" He concluded, "Now, that's not Hillary's fault...but it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton is history."
Senator Paul's comments got a lot of attention, no doubt as he had hoped. It was clearly an effort to dredge up old headlines about the Clinton-era dramas in the White House. His attack received support from GOP party boss Reince Priebus, who told MSNBC that "everything is on the table." Priebus explained, "I think we're going to have a truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and some things may be old, and some things may be new. But I think everything is at stake when you're talking about the leader of the free world."
Priebus is the man who commissioned an autopsy of the Republican failure to win the White House in 2012. In announcing the results last year, he said, "The way we communicate our principles isn't resonating widely enough...focus groups described our party as 'narrow-minded,' 'out of touch,' and 'stuffy old men.'" Well, Mr. Priebus?
But not all Republicans think that Senator Paul's approach is the way to win the White House. Republican strategist Karl Rove told Fox News, "This can't be 'I want to run for president' -- it's got to be about something bigger than that, and frankly Rand Paul spending a lot of time talking about the mistakes of Bill Clinton does not look like a big agenda for the country." He added, "I'm not certain again that beating up on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky is a particularly good thing to strengthen your skills for the 2016 contest."
Former Republican congressman and current MSNBC television host Joe Scarborough told his audience he'd "never bring that stuff up in a gazillion years." But he did pivot, saying that if Secretary Clinton attacks Republicans as anti-women it's fair game. "Does this not compromise Hillary Clinton's ability to bash Republicans as being terrible towards women," he said.
Perhaps that is the ultimate Republican strategy. But it risks energizing Clinton supporters, alienating independent and women voters, and reinforcing the negative perceptions of the party as "out of touch."