Open season on Bill Clinton? So argues Callum Borchers of the Washington Post, who argues that Hillary Clinton removed any waiver of family privacy during last night’s debate. When Lester Holt asked about the role the former president would serve in her administration, Hillary said she planned to make him a “public emissary” for her agenda:
I’m going to have the very best advisers that I can possibly have, and when it comes to the economy and what was accomplished under my husband’s leadership in the ’90s — especially when it came to raising incomes for everybody and lifting more people out of poverty than at any time in recent history — you bet.
I’m going to ask for his ideas, I’m going ask for his advice, and I’m going use him as a goodwill emissary to go around the country to find the best ideas we’ve got, because I do believe, as he said, everything that’s wrong with America has been solved somewhere in America.
Borchers says that’s enough to open the door to examine Bill’s past as part of the vetting for a Hillary presidency:
But that puts him in a different category. He’s not just a supportive husband who happens to be a former president. He’s potentially a future White House representative and someone who could have the next president’s ear as she shapes economic policy. That means he ought to be vetted and that Hillary Clinton’s decision to include him among her advisers should be scrutinized.
If another Democratic candidate said that he or she planned to deploy Bill Clinton as an emissary and to consult him on economics, that choice would surely get a thorough examination from the press. The standard should be no different in this case.
True enough. And the idea that Hillary would let Bill off the leash to travel on his own while she remained in the White House is … rather amusing, given his track record. Maybe she figures he’d be seen as a Joe Bideneque character by the national media, too innocuous and personally charming to be taken seriously or have his peccadilloes scrutinized to any degree. She’d probably be correct, too.
Still, Bill was a legitimate story before this declaration last night, too — especially with Hillary framing herself as the Defender of All Women on the campaign trail. That provided an opening for opponents to remind voters of Hillary’s handling of her husband’s peccadilloes when it should have mattered. This isn’t the same as discussing a spouse who largely stays out of the electoral process. Bill was President of the United States, and former POTUSes are not off limits under any circumstance. Just ask George W. Bush … and for that matter, his brother Jeb, who has been asked about George’s actions in office a lot more than Hillary has been questioned about the action Bill was getting in the Oval Office.
So yes, it is legitimate to make Bill Clinton’s past an issue in this election, and it always was. The better question is whether it will be effective. A new Reuters poll says no:
Bill Clinton may not be the “secret weapon” that Hillary Clinton needs in the U.S. presidential race. And the former Democratic president may not become the albatross that Republican candidate Donald Trump expects, either.
Bill Clinton simply is not wielding that kind of influence – good or bad – over voters so far this year, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. A majority of Americans, including 73 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans, said Bill Clinton does not factor into their opinion of Hillary for president.
The poll, conducted Jan. 7 to 13, found that 12 percent of Americans are more likely to vote for Hillary, the former secretary of state, because of her marriage to Bill. Among Democrats, fewer than half said Bill Clinton should be more prominent in his wife’s campaign, and less than half felt that his presence in the race would boost her chances of winning.
It’s basically a wash. Twelve percent are more likely to vote for Hillary because of Bill, and 15% are less likely to do so. Furthermore, the Bill attack is a trap for Republicans. Hillary wants the 2016 election to be about the past, about the Clinton Restoration, as she still sees it as Camelot II. Republicans need 2016 to be about the future rather than the past, and the last thing they need is to have voters watch them get re-entangled in the impeachment debate from 1998. An entire generation of voters have come of age in the 18 years since the scandals broke out into partisan warfare on Capitol Hill, and they likely couldn’t care less who won those two decades ago, let alone now.
The GOP has all the ammunition they need to paint Hillary as a relic of the past and far more unworthy of trust than her husband. Any other attacks on the supporting team is not just a waste, but a distraction from far better arguments.