By Niall Stanage - 03/06/15 06:00 AM EST
Republicans believe Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonIvanka Trump stars in first campaign ad for her father Clinton camp on Trump cameo in Playboy film: 'a strange turn of events' Trump raises mic concerns when asked about next debate MORE’s fundamental political weaknesses have been exposed by the controversy surrounding her use of personal email while secretary of State — and they couldn’t be more delighted.
GOP figures are happy to see troubles befall Democrats in general. But Clinton’s case is a special one because she is such a runaway favorite to become her party’s 2016 standard-bearer if, as expected, she enters the race for the White House.
They just hope the pattern continues.
“She’s a terrible politician,” said Florida-based GOP strategist Rick Wilson. “She has never won a genuinely contested election. She is spectacularly bad. If her name was ‘Hillary Jones’, she couldn’t get elected to a Mosquito Management Board in Florida. She is not a woman who has ever been able to win a hot race.”
It’s not just Republicans who have questioned Hillary Clinton’s political chops.
Even some Democrats have wondered why her team’s response to the email flap has been flat-footed.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod told MSNBC earlier this week, “this problem is being exacerbated by the lack of answers from the Clinton campaign, or the nascent campaign, and it would be good to get out there and answer these questions.”
A tweet from Clinton’s official account late Wednesday answered few questions. “I want the public to see my email,” it asserted.
Put it all together and it’s a lot of grist for Republicans’ mill.
“The question of her political competence is definitely on display,” said Dan Judy of Republican firm North Star Opinion Research, which has previously worked with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) but does not currently have an affiliation with a likely 2016 GOP candidate.
“The thing is, when people talk about the Clintons’ political talent, you think of Bill. She is not Bill. She has been very successful in politics but she is not a very talented politician — and I think that was on display in the 2008 primary, and it has been on display again since the time she left as secretary of State.”
Clinton’s main responsibility during her husband’s early years in the White House was shepherding healthcare reform, an effort that collapsed in ignominy.
And in 2008, she was upset in the Democratic primary by then-Sen. Barack Obama. He was an unusually compelling candidate but Clinton’s uncertain campaign, riven with infighting, also squandered some obvious advantages.
More recently, there have been several unforced errors from Clinton, notably her comment that she and President Clinton had left the White House “dead broke.” The revelation last month that the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation had once again begun accepting donations from foreign governments, which it had prohibited during her time at the State Department, deepened questions about her financial dealings.
One of Clinton’s biggest selling points to Democrats has been that she has been fully vetted, on account of having been on the political front-lines for so long. But that claim has now been called into question by the email controversy.
“It shows that there are still surprises with Hillary Clinton and that there are likely to be more to come,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican consultant.
Bonjean professed to be perfectly happy about the dynamics of the Democratic nomination race, with Clinton so firmly favored to emerge as the party’s presidential candidate.
“It looks like the Democratic donor community would like to rally around Hillary Clinton if she would let them,” he said. “But with the type of fodder she is providing at the moment, I think Republicans would very much welcome her to the race.”
Such comments contain some element of bravado. But they also point to the fact that the GOP is able to train its fire on Clinton alone. The Republican National Committee has been blasting away at Clinton for months already, and it is sure to do so for the next two years, if it comes to that.
Even independent observers think that can exact a toll.
“You’re going to get attacked much longer if you don’t have an opponent,” said Susan MacManus, a professor of government at the University of South Florida. “In some sense, competition does minimize the focus on one particular person. If you’re one person, you get hit from all sides, including from people within your own party.”
Clinton defenders would argue that she has many powerful advantages, ranging from her formidable fundraising power to her status as by far the most credible female candidate to yet seek the presidency.
She’s also far ahead in the polls.
But, for the moment at least, Republicans are very far from running scared.
“She’s not a natural. She has the policy expertise but not the political skills,” said Judy. “She’s just not all that great.”