Republicans fighting to retake control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections fear Bill Clinton as a popular, vote-getting, fundraising-powerhouse threat to their aspirations. Enter Anthony Weiner, who Republicans hope could be their own not-so-secret weapon next year.
OK, that sounded a little gross. But the GOP has seized on Weiner’s sexting scandal to argue that vulnerable (or potentially vulnerable) Democrats can’t condemn the former congressman's habits without also distancing themselves from the former president.
So the National Republican Republican Senatorial Committee opened up with both barrels Tuesday on Democrats who might be looking for Clinton’s help, using Weiner’s troubles to recall accusations of sexual misconduct by the former president. Yep, there was even a reference to Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose affair with Clinton was at the heart of his 1998 impeachment.
NRSC official Brad Dayspring described Weiner as "one married man inappropriately sending young women disgusting photos of himself" versus Clinton as a married man guilty of "repeated transgressions with women." The memo recalled Clinton "taking advantage of a White House intern, which forever wrecked her career," an unmistakable Lewinsky reference.
"Democrats can’t have it both ways when it comes to the treatment of women and they should have the courage to condemn any politician that assaults, harasses, or exploits women," he continued. "Anthony Weiner's behavior toward women certainly is no worse than Bill Clinton's and Democratic candidates lose all credibility preaching about a so-called 'War on Women' while standing alongside Bill Clinton to raise money and boost their campaign war chests."
While the immediate goal is 2014, the overall strategy has the feel of a war game for Hillary Clinton's potential run for the White House in 2016.
“At this moment, Bill Clinton is the Democrats’ surrogate-in-chief, whom endangered Democrats in the South and other areas where Barack Obama can't go (without doing damage) are counting on,” a Republican helping craft strategy to retake the Senate told Yahoo News. “He'll be counted on to raise millions for those candidates and to woo center-left voters who tuned out Barack Obama a long time ago.”
For their part Democrats freely describe Weiner as a heel — just not as an Achilles Heel.
“It’s wholly ridiculous,” Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Yahoo News of the latest GOP efforts to target Bill Clinton.
“This proves that Republicans have learned nothing from their past mistakes. The agenda that they are pursuing that is harmful for women has consequences for women’s everyday lives — on equal pay, on child care, on access to contraception and other issues,” Canter said. “That's what the ‘war on women’ is about, not cable soap operas.”
One potentially interesting test case for the GOP strategy will be Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, where incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor is on both parties’ list of vulnerable Democrats.
Here’s an excerpt from the sharply worded NRSC press release targeting Pryor.
“Bill Clinton will barnstorm across the country in 2014, no doubt working to help elect Mark Pryor and other Democrats as they use the manufactured 'War on Women' to score political points. Remember: This is the same Bill Clinton whose own predatory behavior destroyed lives, hurt his wife, and embarrassed his colleagues (and our country). Yes, the same Bill Clinton who other Democratic Senators admittedly said they would not trust alone with their daughters.”
Similar NRSC messages went out targeting Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Al Franken of Minnesota. Others aimed at Democratic Senate candidates Michelle Nunn (Georgia), Gary Peters (Michigan) and Bruce Braley (Iowa).
A call to Pryor's re-election campaign was not returned.
Damaging the Clinton brand might not only help Republican Senate hopefuls — it could rally the GOP faithful ahead of a potential 2016 presidential run by Hillary Clinton and shake potential supporters who don't want to be reminded of Clinton-era White House drama. (Search for "Pig-Pen" in this piece by Politico's talented Maggie Haberman.)
There’s at least one glaring problem with the "demonize Clinton" strategy: Bill Clinton’s impeachment by congressional Republicans was powerfully unpopular, and is thought to have helped Democrats make gains in the 1998 midterm elections. And the former president is staggeringly popular today, with 71 percent of respondents to a recent Fox News poll saying they have a favorable view of him, against 25 percent unfavorable.
Many Democrats credit Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer with explaining Obama’s re-election rationale better than Obama had done. The president himself publicly anointed Clinton “secretary of explaining stuff.”
“It’s worth noting that the last time Republicans faced such an election was 1998, when they threw the election by over-attacking President Clinton,” Canter said.
Canter noted that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell headed the NRSC in that cycle.
“Everyone gave them great odds. Instead, they went on a witch hunt and personally attacked Bill Clinton — and ended up failing to get a single seat,” Canter added.
“It’s like they’re committed to make the same mistakes again.”