GOP Views Clinton As Virtually Unbeatable
Carrie Sheffield and Jim VandeHei
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
What many conservatives regard as the nightmare scenario -- President Hillary Rodham Clinton -- is increasingly seen by veteran Republican politicians and strategists as a virtual inevitability.
In GOP circles, the Democratic front-runner is seen as so strong, and the political climate for Republicans so hostile, that many influential voices -- including current and former lawmakers, and veterans of President Bush's campaigns -- have grown despairing. These partisans describe a political equivalent of the stages of grief, starting with denial, then resentment and ending with acceptance.
For now, these Republicans say the party needs good luck, including a change of fortune in Iraq, and a revival of organization and leadership in the conservative movement to avert another Clinton presidency.
"If the conservative movement and Republicans don't understand how massive the Clinton coalition is, she will be the next president," former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said in an interview last week, after giving a private talk to GOP lawmakers. Clinton will win, he added, "if we don't use everything available to us and motivate our base, the people that believe in us."
In his closed-door comments to conservative House members, DeLay warned of the wealth and political potency of the Clinton fundraising network.
"We do have to get our act together, and I'd agree with Tom DeLay on that," said Rep. Steve King of Iowa. "At this point, short an inspirational Republican nominee, then I would agree that it's going to be very difficult to beat Hillary if she wins the nomination."
Those comments echoed those by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich last month on Fox News: "I think you have to start with the idea that, if we don't get Baghdad solved, and if we continue to drift, that it will be very hard for a Republican to win next year, no matter what our values and what our beliefs. And, second, you have to believe that, at the present moment, she is the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic nominee."
Even some well-connected outside advisers to Bush said in interviews they essentially accept this analysis. These strategists are advising Republicans that it will be next to impossible to win the White House if Bush's popularity remains so low, and public disgust with the war so high. Beyond the polls, some said there are gaps between the organizational prowess of the Clinton operation and any of the Republicans currently competing for the nomination.
Jack Oliver, former deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Clinton is a prodigious fundraiser who can be beaten only with a specific and optimistic vision. "The challenge for Republicans is to avoid the temptation of just being against her," Oliver said. "It's not enough to keep the White House."
The comments are striking at several levels. The flagging conservative morale about beating Clinton comes at the same time many Democrats regard the New York senator as newly vulnerable because of the competition she faces from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and skepticism she faces from activists opposed to the Iraq war. On the Republican side, there is a disconnect between grass-roots, red-state Republicans and the mostly Washington-based operatives who surround Bush. While conservative publishers and organizers have made a fortune off the loathing for Clinton among workaday Republicans, people around the president have always expressed a grudging respect for her wiles and willpower and have long warned that she would be a formidable national candidate.
Several top Republicans said the fears that Clinton could be a prohibitive favorite have contributed to overall blahs that activists feel about the GOP field. One presidential adviser said that Clinton dread was actually helping Republican leaders stomach candidates who might otherwise be unacceptable. "People are willing to sacrifice some of their ideological principles to win," the adviser said.
The conservative movement, ascendant for much of the Bush presidency, is now divided and dispirited. GOP leaders report that it is harder than ever to organize Republicans around a common cause and that Democrats have made progress in recent years in rebuilding the infrastructure of their party. In this mood of malaise, the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency is one prod leaders use to shock conservative troops into action.
Some Republicans say a Clinton presidency might even be good for Republicans. "If Americans actually have to witness and live through a Hillary Clinton presidency, it will remind us why we are fundamentally traditional conservatives in America. We believe in hard work, strong families," said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla.
Conservatives are slowly starting to organize against Clinton, but the effort lacks the vitality and vitriol of the attacks on former first lady in the 1990s. Dick Morris, the former top adviser to President Clinton, is raising money to help produce a documentary critical of Clinton. Morris has argued publicly that Clinton is poised to win in 2008.
The movie is being made with Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group run by longtime Clinton opponents David N. Bossie and Floyd G. Brown. "Hillary Movie Coming Soon!" says the group's Web site, which solicits credit-card donations to "help finance this movie." The site brags that the film "will expose the truth about her conflicts in the past and her liberal plot for the future."
Former House member John LeBoutillier of New York is heading up the Stop Hillary PAC, which has run an anti-Clinton ad in Iowa. The group has grabbed headlines but not a lot of money for its efforts.
Reflecting the views of many well-known Republicans, DeLay thinks a Clinton juggernaut may provide the flattening the party needs in order to be reborn in Reagan's mold. "Hillary Clinton as president may be the best thing that ever happened to the conservative movement and the Republican Party," says the man known as the Hammer. "I mean, Bill Clinton as president was the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party. It was because he was president that we gained the majority in 1995." And he would know.
Read more about why circumstances favor the Democratic candidates in '08.
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