11/07/2007 09:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fatal Attraction - How The GOP's Premature Campaign Against Hillary May Cost It The Presidency

A row of men stand in a semi-circle. Waiting. Wooing. Who will win the right to pursue her? But there's only one rose. No, it's not the latest Bachelorette, it's the GOP presidential race. And watching your husband obsess, day in and day out, about said prize must be tough on those wannabe first ladies.

When you're the third wife of a cross-dressing egomaniac, you have to be on your guard. Just because your husband is a presidential candidate doesn't mean that he's immune from a little schoolyard (or campaign) crush. Ann, you too. Sure, you and your husband have been together since preschool, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't think about other women. And Michelle, Elizabeth, and Jeri, you'd better watch your backs. That's right, it's nearly primary season, when a middle-aged candidate's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of... Hillary.

Look what just happened. You just read the name "Hillary," and chances are a few of you cringed. Schoolyard crushes are complicated. Remember how it worked? If a boy teased a girl and made her cry, it meant he liked her. If a girl chased a boy around the jungle gym, she liked him. When a boy ate a girl's Crayolas and Play-Doh, well, that probably doesn't mean much. But when a boy attacks a girl's politics and ability to lead the free world on national television? "Teacher! He hit me!" (Teacher writes Rudy's, Mitt's, Fred's, Barack's, and John's name on the blackboard).

Let's take our preconceived notions about Senator Clinton, set them aside for the next few minutes, and try to look objectively at her candidacy. That voters, both left and right, have such a hard time doing so indicates just how passionately we feel about the front-runner, and the raw emotion that the mere mention of her name immediately conjures. That's also why the Republican candidates have turned their attacks toward her rather than each other. Attacking Hillary simply scores higher points with the base and garners louder applause than even Romney's "Double Guantanamo" rhetoric triumph. (Side note: I'd love to see an escalation of the Guantanamo chest-beating similar to the ongoing Gillette vs. Schick battle for razor supremacy: Three blades! Four blades! FIVE BLADES! I digress...).

But here's the thing: however strongly negative you feel about her now (whether you're a liberal or conservative), I'll bet that by next November that same "anyone but Hillary" mentality will have tempered. Why? The backlash is starting too early.

The top Republican contenders are looking to score points with conservatives however possible, and those back-room, knob-wielding debate focus groups get giddiest when the candidates go after Senator Clinton. Fred and Mitt know this, and in their effort to overtake Rudy have hitched their wagons to the Hillary express. Rudy wants to keep his lead and has done the same. With Rudy, the media often call it "switching to general election mode," but really, he's just trying to score the easy points. But in jockeying to win the party nomination, the Republican candidates are putting their own interests in front of their party's. This is desperation politics at its finest; the elephant is cutting off its trunk to spite its face.

Once again, it's the politics of fear. These days, it seems you can't get most Republican voters to the polls unless they're plumb scared of something in one shape or form. One day that Bogeyman might be Saddam, another day it's Ahmadinejad, and another day it's a gay couple (aka "The Boogiemen" - that name is now trademarked for an all-male pop group, by the way). For the Republican base, their monster in the closet du jour is Hillary.

The anti-Clinton campaign is in full swing, and we are an entire year away from the election. Sure, the drumbeat will fade for a while after the primaries and the Republican nominee becomes apparent, but it will never again resonate with the same effectiveness and media attention as it has of late. The nominee will have been victorious over his Republican rivals, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

Even worse for the GOP Hillary-bashers is that the Democratic candidates have taken up the mantel since the Philadelphia debate. Obama and Edwards, desperate to knock Clinton off her perch have confronted her more directly than ever before. But if Clinton goes on to become the nominee, she'll have weathered this line of attack, and the Republican candidate who tries to reintroduce it in the general election will be met with yawns. We've already been there, done that. You already scored your points, let's move on.

When Karl Rove lashed out at Senator Clinton during his media tour this August after leaving the White House, pundits speculated that he was working the same deception against Democrats with Hillary that he worked against them with Kerry in 2004; attacking the candidate he felt was weakest in order to rally support around them. But that was then, this is now. There's no "Rovian genius" in these premature attacks on Clinton. Hillary should be counting her blessings that such a broadside is coming at a time when her polls are high and she can withstand such an attack, only to emerge more resilient. Future GOP candidate (and now likely general-election loser), I hope it was worth it.