Republican congressional leaders found themselves in a bit of hot water last week, and deservedly so, when it appeared that none of the GOP’s major figures in Congress would be traveling to Alabama for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Selma to Montgomery marches.
The manic hysterics who populate the internet self-flagellated over the insult posed by Republicans’ galling boycott of the Selma celebrations. That notion is, of course, a complete fabrication. It is lamentable that it took some public pressure on Republican congressional leaders to finally compel Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to join the activists and political figures marching again down the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It’s also worth celebrating the fact that he joined a number of Republican lawmakers who didn’t need a push in the back to make it to Alabama this past weekend.
From former President George W. Bush, to Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Tim Scott (R-SC), to Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Tom Emmer (R-MN), not to mention the primarily GOP Alabama congressional delegation, a variety of Republicans traveled from across the country to honor a moment in American history when freedom was advanced.
But one political figure’s absence from these celebrations has been relatively unremarked upon so far. At least, it was until The New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman noted that both of the Clintons were conspicuously absent from the celebrations.
According to people familiar with her thinking, Mrs. Clinton had discussed whether to go several weeks ago, as some of her allies pressed for her to attend. But ultimately, she stuck with the planned Clinton Global Initiative event.
People close to the Clintons, who both made note of the Selma event, described them as in a bind regardless of what they did, given that their presence could have made people see the event through a political lens. Others argued that they have a history supporting civil rights and would have added to the event.
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, Nick Merrill, when asked about her thinking on staying away, said she was “honored to have been able to go in the past,” but had the Clinton Global Initiative commitment.
Instead, the Clintons traveled to South Florida where they tackled a variety of “global issues.” There, Bill Clinton subjected himself to a withering set of inquiries regarding the Clinton Foundation’s lurid fundraising practices from unsavory foreign governments. The Clintons tapped veteran inquisitor and Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore to perform that grueling cross-examination. As an unsurprising result, little in the way of news was made at the CGI forum in Coral Gables.
So, why have you heard an unending parade of handwringers kvetching over the affront presented by the fact that no Republicans decided to attend the Selma celebrations (when, in fact, 23 GOP lawmakers made the trek) and so little about the Clintons’ conspicuously rare determination to maintain a wide berth from a town crawling with reporters and cameras? The narrative, silly.
Republicans, of course, faced the same “bind” that Clinton did. Those who shook their heads at the GOP for failing to observe properly Selma’s relevance did so as an acknowledgment of modern political circumstances and the party’s position with minority voters. Their presence in Selma, too, could be construed as political just as was their absence. Hillary Clinton’s presence there would have undoubtedly disrupted the solemn atmosphere, but only until she castigated the reporters present at the celebrations for disrupting the event with questions about her myriad ethical lapses.
She might have done herself quite a bit of good in that way. Clinton surrogates have taken to defending the former secretary of state by accusing the political reporters covering her scandalous actions of frivolity and anti-Clinton myopia. A shot of Hillary scolding reporters in Selma for making that sacred event about her trials might have gone a long way in advancing that narrative. Instead, the Clinton’s decided to remain in the bunker surrounded only by admirers.
It’s nascent and only just barely observable, but the tone of the coverage of the Clintons is starting to shift. Both Clinton allies and the media alike are tiring of waiting for Republicans to rescue Hillary from herself. Over the weekend, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) became the first courageous Democrat to imply that Clinton would be best served if she crawled out of her foxhole and took some fire herself. This Times report, too, is laden with that same implication. Unless Republicans give the press what they are waiting for, the dam may soon burst as nervous Democrats grow weary of serving as the Clinton’s crisis communications team.