Tony Blankley, the editor of the Washington Times, warns Republicans to get their act together now if they expect to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2008 for the White House. The Bush administration has begun playing into her one strength — competence — and the Republicans cannot rely on Barack Obama or John Edwards to stop her march to the Oval Office:
With every passing week it becomes more likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party nominee for president. This thought, alone, should provide the strongest possible motivation to the Bush administration and the Washington Republicans to get their acts together so that the eventual Republican nominee for president doesn’t start the general election campaign in too deep a hole.
The polls that show half the country saying they won’t vote for Hillary should be discounted. At the election, the choice will not be Hillary or not Hillary — it will be Hillary or someone else. And that is what the campaign is about. …
Moreover, Hillary’s strengths are not yet as appreciated as they will be. Don’t get me wrong, personally I find her and her candidacy detestable as the worst form of unprincipled, ruthless, nihilistic, mud-throwing demagogic politics. But for the Democratic Party electorate (and some Independents and soft Republicans) her apparent strengths will become more persuasive. Currently she suffers by the media’s focus on her lack of spontaneity, charm or pleasant voice — particularly when compared with Obama and, to some extent, Edwards.
But charm is not the only path to the American voter. Richard Milhous Nixon won more national elections than any politician in our history (two vice presidents, three presidential nominations and two presidencies — three if you count the stolen 1960 election against Kennedy). He didn’t have any charm — but he was smart, shrewd, highly political, hard working and ruthless. Sometimes the voters are looking for what they think is competence rather than a love affair.
It’s an interesting argument, but not quite convincing. The Bush administration’s recent troubles have created a competence issue, one that the Democrats exploited to some extent in 2006 and on which they hope to expand in 2008. The continuing saga at Justice has made that easy for the Democrats, and we still have nineteen months to go.
However, Hillary isn’t exactly the poster girl for competence, either. More than one of the scandals in the Clinton administration revolved around her, such as the Travel Office debacle in which the White House attempted to gin up criminal charges against staffers there in order to fill their slots with political cronies — something far worse than what anyone suggests happened at Justice. The Rose law-firm records of her work disappeared for a time, only to reappear in the White House itself, all without her knowledge. And focusing strictly on competence, her work on the nationalization of the health-care industry helped the Republicans win control of Congress in 1994.
Blankley hits the mark with Barack Obama and John Edwards, though. Like I wrote last night, Obama doesn’t have the seasoning to determine the level of his competence. All he has is the “ludicrously enthusiastic media launch” and an undeniable charm at the podium. When pressed for policy specifics, he comes up empty except for a promise to conduct a different sort of politics. Edwards has a firmer grasp on policy, but at the moment serves Hillary’s purpose of splitting her antagonists among the base. One of these men will likely become her running mate, if she wins the nomination.
But to me, that’s a bigger if now than before. Hillary has not campaigned well, and her negatives have become too plain to ignore. She’s nowhere near as charming as her husband, who turns out to be a liability for Hillary because of the comparison. Her Iraq vote caused her to stumble through some rhetorical twists than can only be called Clintonian, and she now wants to run on a repeat of her health-care debacle. She has all of Bill’s slickness and none of the salesmanship that allowed him to get away with it.
And meanwhile, the very substantial Bill Richardson lies waiting on the perimeter, looking for an opening to claim that mantle of competence and experience from all three Democratic frontrunners.