According to Gallop research in 2014, "A clear majority of Americans, 59%, still view Hillary Clinton favorably a year after she left her post as secretary of state." During her tenure as secretary of state it remained above 60%, about fifteen points higher than when she was a New York Senator. Polls also show that Clinton's political career (pertaining to approval ratings) has progressed since 1992, when her favorability rating was only 39%. When Karl Rove made his recent remarks about Clinton's mental health, he knew very well that lowering these numbers is essential to a Republican having any chance in 2016. From Benghazi to scandals of years past, Republicans for the next two years will work to chip away at Clinton's favorability ratings. Their goal, of course, is to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming the first female president in 2016 by using any tactic necessary to undermine the former first lady's political credibility.
The foundation of the Republican strategy against Hillary, like most political campaigns, revolves around negativity. Whether a message is true or false, as long as it produces a narrative that is disseminated (free of charge) through most media outlets, that's all that matters to political strategists. As stated in a paper by John G. Geer of Vanderbilt University (published by Harvard University), negative media messages gain widespread attention, regardless of their accuracy:
Given that candidates want to influence voters, the free media offers a powerful way
to get their message out. For presidential elections, "The free media narrative,"
according to David Chalian, "is the single most important thing to control." But as
shown earlier, candidates must have a message that sparks controversy or otherwise it
gets no coverage. The best way to do that is through attacks--that is, negative ads.
That means for candidates to get their message out and to control this all‐important
narrative, the news media have unintentionally given candidates even more reason to
create and to air attack ads.
So, if Karl Rove simply mentions the possibility of Hillary Clinton having brain damage from a concussion (even if he later recants such a statement), he's achieved his goal by simply having news outlets publicize his accusation. Controlling and deciding a narrative is important. Constant coverage of Ken Star's investigation of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky led directly to eight years of George Bush. Therefore, if one party can "get its message out" and control the "all important narrative," it stands a better chance at getting votes. John G. Geer goes on to state that negative ads can have such an impact that John Kerry's "Swift Boat controversy drew more press attention than the Iraq War." There's no doubt that negativity (without necessarily relevance or truth) is effective, especially for Republican strategists who care more about spreading any message that promotes discussion.
Continual discussion of Benghazi among conservatives is one of the pillars of Republican attacks against Hillary Clinton and serves several functions. First, it completely removes any discussion of 9/11 taking place under the Bush administration and creates the impression that Benghazi was just as catastrophic as the death of three thousand Americans. Second, Republicans can create a narrative from the Benghazi terror attack, even though there were 13 attacks and 60 deaths in embassies under the Bush administration. On May 15, 2014, a Fox News poll stated the following: "Fifty-four percent of voters think the Obama administration has been deceitful about the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks. Half say the same about former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (50 percent)." As a result, if they can continually evoke doubt as to Clinton's ability at protecting Americans from terror, the Republican candidate stands a better chance at winning.
Once America has had enough of Benghazi coverage, Republicans will move on to scandals of the Bill Clinton administration. The Whitewater controversy, the Lewinsky scandal, and the various other extramarital affairs of President Clinton will be brought out of the woodwork in order damage Hillary Clinton. Although her husband's affairs have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's potential as president, Republicans will no doubt utilize negative media attention to create controversy and attempt to control a narrative. The Monica Lewinsky issue has already mentioned; two years before Hillary Clinton could even think of becoming president. As stated by Fox News, it's never too late to talk about Monica Lewinsky: "Still, why now? Lewinsky says that everyone else is talking about her, so why should she stay quiet? She knew her White House exploits would be debated during a Hillary campaign--indeed, Rand Paul has already pressed the issue--and decided she wanted her voice heard."
Finally, Republicans will engage in tactics that hurt female candidates. For example, Hillary Clinton will be labeled as a "mean" person; a label that most other male candidates don't often hear directed at them. According to a USA today report on sexism in political races, certain words hurt female candidates more than their male counterparts: "Calling a female candidate such sexist names as "ice queen" and "mean girl" significantly undercuts her political standing, a new study of voter attitudes finds, doing more harm than gender-neutral criticism based solely on her policy positions and actions." While George Bush is someone you want to have a drink with and Romney is a CEO with business experience, Hillary Clinton's years of political experience might be narrowed down to being a "prima donna," or a word far more egregious.
From Benghazi to a concussion, Hillary Clinton will be the subject of constant Republican accusation and criticism. How Clinton handles the inevitable swipes at her personality, the character of her husband, and Benghazi will determine whether or not she can win the election in 2016.