By John Feehery - 06/09/14 06:16 PM EDT
As Hillary Clinton starts peddling her new book and preparing for her presidential run, Republicans should carefully consider how they can prepare a defense against her.
While I appreciate Karl Rove’s political acumen, calling her potentially brain-damaged is not the right approach.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Republicans should not unwittingly drive Clinton into the arms of liberals who distrust her. Just like in 2008, she is vulnerable to a challenge from the left. Making her a martyr with unfair and unfounded attacks could backfire on conservatives. Republicans may hope to drive out her of the nomination by throwing all kinds of flak her way, but I doubt that will work, and in fact, it could stiffen her resolve to run and make her more of a hero to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party
Focus-group the ladies: How Republicans treat Clinton now will have an impact on how female voters will vote for generations. We all know about the gender gap, but we don’t know how that gap will widen with her at the top of the ticket. We should find out what language works best and what language doesn’t work with gettable female voters (usually known as soccer moms). Every GOP political professional should commit to memory the words that work and learn what words or phrases don’t.
Her record does matter: Clinton has been on the national stage a long time, and the former first lady gets the benefit of the doubt from most in the media for the endurance. She reflexively gets high marks for her tenure in the Senate, but upon reexamination, it wasn’t that distinguished. Her votes to go to war in Iraq and to bail out the banks still must stick in the craw of progressives. As secretary of State, her track record was mostly mediocre with some spectacular failures, including the tragedy in Benghazi and so-called Russian reset.
Attack the age of her ideas, not her: Much has been made about her health and her rather advanced age, but more troubling is her geriatric approach to issues. Her chief aim is call for more command and control from Washington. It is hard to see Clinton offering much in the way of new thoughts on governing. ObamaCare is the veritable free market compared to what she attempted in 1993 and 1994. Name one thing that she has proposed that should be done in Washington that sounds even mildly interesting. Bet you can’t.
Her husband is a liability: I know that sounds counterintuitive. Bill Clinton left office with high approval ratings and a humming economy, and since being impeached for lying about a sexual dalliance in the Oval Office, he has become the star of the Clinton initiative show. But in 2008, the former president turned off progressive voters in the primary with intemperate remarks about Barack Obama, and I bet he will make similar mistakes this go-around. The Clinton foundation has been supported by a veritable menagerie of questionable donors. What those donors may want from the former president if his wife becomes president is a matter of some speculation now, but it becomes far more relevant when and if Hillary Clinton decides to put her hat in the ring.
I think Clinton has some real vulnerabilities that can be exploited if done properly. Her ideas are old, her track record is over-rated, her husband is a liability. But if the GOP is not careful, it could overplay its hand, drive the hard left to support her and make the gender gap even worse for Republicans.
The GOP has some hard choices in how it decides to try derail Hillary Clinton, should she choose to run for president again.
Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).