Should Republicans rehash the Monica Lewinsky scandal if Hillary Clinton bids to win the 2016 Democratic nomination for President, or will that distract from efforts to hold her accountable for her own record? The previous Republican nominee has some advice for his party, offered on Meet the Press with David Gregory yesterday (via The Week):
The Monica Lewinsky scandal shouldn’t be used in Republicans’ case against Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential bid, Mitt Romney said Sunday.
The last Republican presidential nominee cautioned whoever would be the next GOP standard-bearer to steer away from attacks against Bill Clinton, whom Romney said had “breached his responsibility” and “embarrassed” the nation as president by engaging in an extra-marital affair in office.
But he added, “I don’t think Bill Clinton is as relevant as Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president.”
“She has her own record and her own vision,” Romney said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. … “I think Hillary Clinton if she becomes the nominee will have plenty to discuss about her own record,” he said. “I don’t imagine that Bill Clinton will be a big part of it.”
Rand Paul justified his focus on Lewinsky on an earlier show, putting it in the context of the Democrats’ “war on women” and the lack of media outrage over Bill Clinton’s behavior:
I have no illusions in determining which person would win with conservatives outside the context of this argument. In this case, though, the establishment, Northeastern, Massachusetts Republican with two losing bids for President is correct.
This was a losing argument for Republicans when Bill Clinton was on the ticket himself, in 1992, 1996, and a final time in 1998’s midterms that was defined by the Lewinsky affair and the GOP reaction to it. The “bimbo eruptions” started early in 1992, but the carefully-prepared Clintons disarmed it in a 60 Minutes interview, and went on to win a three-way race for the presidency. The 1996 election was mostly a replay with a weaker Republican challenger. By 1998, the Lewinsky affair had exploded onto the national scene, and Republicans impeached Clinton in the House while failing to remove him in the Senate for perjury and obstruction in a related lawsuit. But instead of gaining seats in Congress, as the opposition party almost always does against a President in sixth-year midterms, Republicans made no gains in the Senate and lost a handful of seats in the House.
The desire to relitigate 1998 to go back and win this argument is understandable, but it’s futile. At least at the time it had the virtue of relevance, to both the time and the person. In this case it’s irrelevant to both, unless we want to blame Hillary for her husband’s philandering. If Paul thinks that will help Republicans win the PR battle in “the war on women,” he’s going to find himself sadly mistaken. Most voters won’t even remember 1998 by the time 2016 rolls around, and those that do may be looking back fondly on the era’s economics rather than worry about its ethics. That’s not the kind of nostalgia that’s going to win Republican votes.
Romney’s right. We need to focus on Hillary Clinton’s record as an executive, which is as embarrassing as it is short. Mostly, though, we need to produce a Republican candidate with a clear record of success as an executive, implementing conservative policies that worked, and one that will expand the reach of the GOP. We’ll do that by talking about the future, not obsessing over frustrating losses of the past.