The most interesting thing to come out of the umpteenth Republican debate Sunday is confirmation that the GOP is dying to run against Hillary Clinton. Like Don Rickles flaying a heckler, each candidate whacked at Clinton as if she were a pants-suited piñata. When they were done with their one-liners, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee deadpanned: "Look, I like to be funny. There's nothing funny about Hillary Clinton being president."
No, but there's something deeply advantageous to having her as an opponent. So far, the commentary about the Republican offensive against Hillary has focused mostly on how it reflects poorly on the GOP (those Clinton-hating wing nuts are at it again!). What's not been fully grasped is how Hillary gives the GOP its best chance at being the party of change.
Newt Gingrich, for one, has been pointing this out for months, using the May electoral triumph of Nicolas Sarkozy in France as an example. A cabinet minister for the unpopular Jacques Chirac, who'd served as president for a biblically long term of 12 years, Sarkozy ran against his own incumbent party's complaisance as well as his Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, arguing that she represented a return to a failed past and more of the same.
America isn't France - obviously - but Democrats may be misreading America nonetheless. It seems incandescently clear that voters want a change, and up to now, change meant little more than Democratic victory and no more President Bush. But Democrats got a significant victory in 2006, when they took control of both houses of Congress. And now Congress is even less popular than Bush. In other words, the clamor for change in Washington is much bigger than Bush.
Besides, Bush is leaving no matter what. And unlike every other election since the 1920s, there's no White House-approved candidate in the race. Any Republican will start with 40 percent to 45 percent of the vote in his pocket once he gets the nomination. The question is whether the critical 5 percent to 10 percent of swing voters will think Hillary Clinton represents the sort of change they want.
To wit: Most independents and swing voters want an end to the acrimony and bitterness in Washington - and a candidate they like. Whether that's right or not is irrelevant. That's what they want.
Which Democratic candidate would be most likely to give those voters what they want? Not Hillary, it's safe to say.
Right now, she can get away with boasting about her tenure in the Clinton administration. Party activists are drunk with Clinton nostalgia. On the stump in Iowa, Bill Clinton responded to the claim that Hillary was "yesterday's news" by saying, yeah, but "yesterday's news was pretty good."
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