The strange bipartisan embrace of Sen. Clinton for president.

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May 12 2006 6:29 PM

Hillary Pillory

The strange bipartisan embrace of Sen. Clinton for president.

As the focus of the political establishment goes beyond the midterm elections to 2008, John Dickerson offers his take on the Republican hype surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton—is it fear or fantasy?

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realblackfin notes that Hillary's negatives are huge, making it questionable whether "her base support can over-ride her negatives." -badkitty- is of the camp believing that Hillary's candidacy is a way to motivate demoralized repubs and neocons. Mark14 bids a wistful "Goodbye to democracy. Hello oligarchy" in his prediction of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton, Bush ... in our electoral future.

In an interesting analysis here, mallardsballad proposes that we treat Hillary as

a brand. A powerful brand that conjures powerful emotions to her faithful base, her base that feels betrayed and to her enemies. Let's say she decides to be as inanimate as a brand logo.

Even without doing anything she'd still be the front runner of her party. I would hardly credit that as her political genius…

For example, she is now percieved as a great moderate, a bridge builder, when all she's doing is garnering votes from people, which any common politician has to do.

It's like McDonald's introducing 'healthy' salads. Go a little against the perceived brand and all of sudden it's an extreme make-over. McDonald's has some of the best and expensive talent create this image, and so does Hillary…

And Hillary doesn't have to do much. The Republican brand looks terrible. Usually a last term President can depend on his VP to run, but good god, why would anyone consider Cheney? The best that the Republican party can come up with is a candidate that has every reason to hate that party establishment. How can you dress up McCain as a person that hasn't been bought off? That's desperation in a nutshell.

High oil prices, the disaster of Iraq, percieved corruption via lobbyists, Halliburton, wire tapping, these Republican P.R. disasters can't possibly be attributed to the genius of Hillary. But I think she'll take it.

That's the beauty of brands. Nike, a cheap piece of fabric and plastic made itself the pinnacle of athleticism. Hillary can surely be the brand of the ant-incompetent. It's also helpful that she is an intelligent woman. She can be the anti-Bush, when opinion of Mr. Bush is at an all time low. She doesn't have to lift a finger for all of this to be matched to her advantage.

ElephantGun reproaches Dickerson for being way late to the Hillary game:

Republicans have been talking about a Hillary nomination since 2004. Sean Hannity advised Democrats not to nominate Hillary Clinton in 2008 on election night 2004. Rush and Bill O'Reilly routinely obsess about a Hillary candidacy as well. By now, right-wingers have evolved a complex emotional life around Hillary. They hate the name and get fired up over the 1994 health package and Tammy Wynette, but they respect Hillary as a formidable and successful adversary. I don't think it would be too far off the mark to say that the right has a "love-hate" relationship for Hillary. Hillary also represents a particularly right-wing sense of their own doom. People on the right genuinely fear a Hillary presidency, but are also developing a tragic sense that a Hillary victory in 2008 will be their particular price to pay for the disasters of the Bush years.

Discussion of a Hillary candidacy has been non-stop among Democrats and the left as well. I started posting (favorably) about a Hillary candidacy fourteen months ago and have been participating in any number of heated discussions about Hillary since then. Republican Slate blogger Mickey Kaus has kept up a hostile commentary on Hillary as well.

But the right-wing hasn't created the Hillary candidacy. The thing that gave Hillary Clinton the gravitas to be a credible presidential candidate was her conduct during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hillary managed to appear steadfast, dignified, and mature throughout the crisis, and avoid the perils of public petulance and whiny martyrdom. Hillary's approval numbers zoomed during the last two years of Bill's administration. It was after Hillary started to look like presidential timber that the combination of right-wing obsessiveness and her own conduct as Senator have magnified her credibility.

Dickerson hasn't been following Hillary's numbers at all. She's a shoe-in for re-election and will probably do well in conservative Upstate New York as well as the City. The last national numbers I saw were that her support among Democrats was at 45% and that 40-50% of the voting public thought they might vote for her. Combine those numbers with her experience on the presidential campaign trail, mountains of money, and a crack staff and you have a formidable presidential candidate. The Democratic elite in Washington doesn't accept this and I imagine that Dickerson is speaking from the Establishment point of view. The anti-war left doesn't accept it and feminists don't accept it. However, Hillary will be a strong favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

It is the likeliness of a Hillary nominantion that sparked the speculation of a Condi Rice candidacy and has led the Bush administration to bury the hatchet with John McCain. However, McCain looks progressively smaller (literally, he seems shorter to me) the more he temporizes with the right-wing. His chances of winning the Republican nomination are far less than Hillary's chances of being the Democratic nominee. Given that Hillary is more self-controlled on the campaign trail, she'd have to be rated a slight early favorite over McCain.

Finally, in this excellent post, GavaGuy enumerates the strategic reasons for GOP hopes of a Hillary '08 campaign:

First and foremost Republicans believe she can be beaten.

a) She's a she. She's the most credible female candidate to ever run for the position of President. Still - there will be some slice of the population that will hold her sex against her - and a slice of that slice may have otherwise been willing to consider voting for a male Democrat.

b) Regardless of the details of her record as a Senator, there is a "pre-history" which can be used against her. She served in her husband's administration and can be painted as left of centre. This can be used to sway voters as well.

c) But not only do Republicans think they can win some swing voters, perhaps more importantly, they see the selection of Hillary as galvanizing their own support. Opposition to Hillary will bring out more Republican voters - or so the theory goes.

Second, there are other reasons for Republican wishes for Hillary. Defeating Hillary Clinton would be a defeat of Bill Clinton by proxy. Politicians are, if anything, competitive. The chance of striking a proxy blow to the former President remains enticing.

Third, Hillary has been clearly the front runner. Republicans know this and aren't about to come out and hope for anyone else. It would look like fear of Hillary - and good fighters no not to show fear.

Hillary's run will undoubtedly be history making. The U.S. is perhaps the only major Western nation to not have had a female leader. But Republicans aren't necessarily being stupid in pinning their hopes on having her as the Democratic candidate.

The debate is alive and kicking over in Politics Fray. AC3:10pm PDT

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006