There is little that I can add to the discussion last week on the tussle between the presidential campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. While most pundits thought Obama came out the winner, others thought Hillary emerged victorious. While I think Obama came out slightly better than Mrs. Clinton, the real exchange really brought out the strengths — and weaknesses — of her candidacy. (Jim Geraghty offers thoughtful insight here; Peggy puts in her two cents here. And Bill Kristol has also weighed in.)
It showed how sensitive she is to criticize, but how eager she is to attack.
For those who don’t recall the story, the whole thing got underway when one-time (Bill) Clinton fundraiser and current Obama supporter David Geffen told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that while everyone in politics lies, the Clintons “do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”
And Mrs. Clinton’s team replied, basically belly-aching about “the politics of personal destruction.” She seems to repeat this mantra any time anyone dares criticize her or her husband. The danger in dealing with the Clintons is that they’re experts at what I have called the reverse-offense defense, attacking anyone who dares criticize them.
As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it earlier today:
If a campaign is going to degenerate into a mud slinging contest, the Clintons will always win because they are vastly more ready to jump into the pit. The recent attacks over David Geffen and Barack Obama are just a sample of how quickly and fiercely the Clintons will attack if the campaign is simply about who can ‘out negative’ whom.
Dick Morris points out that Hillary “was among the first to hire private detectives to dig up dirt on women who had been linked to Bill, on Linda Tripp, on other Clinton accusers, and on virtually anyone else who stood in the way of her ambitions for her husband.”
While the Clintons have long dug up dirt on their opponents, they haven’t been used to their opponents fighting back with the skill that Senator Obama’s team has. When Team Clinton attacked Geffen, Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs replied, “The Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when [he] was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom.” Nice.
Peggy thinks this episode has made Hillary (for a moment at least) seem “less inevitable” while Roger Simon thought it showed that Geffen doesn’t think Hillary could win. Whatever the case, this shows that the Clintons aren’t used to such deft replies to their attacks. It may be a sign, as James Taranto speculated today (about another matter related to her campaign) that the junior “senator from New York may find herself unprepared because she is so used to deferential treatment from the press.”
This is a different campaign for Team Clinton. In the past, they were accustomed to rivals who did not respond well to their challenges. It remains to be seen if Obama’s campaign can continue to so respond to the Clintons’ attacks. And in the case that she wins the Democratic nomination that the Republican candidate (and his team) will show the skill Obama’s team did in this recent dustup.
UPDATE: John Fund has a good column in today’s Wall Street Journal on HIllary’s problems, noting the unwillingness of her team to address the “scandals that swirled around Bill Clinton’s eight years in office.” Fund believes this strategy “carries the danger of eroding Mrs. Clinton’s carefully cultivated image of moderation and reasonableness during a campaign that still has almost a year to run before the first primaries.” Now that I’ve whet your appetite, just read the whole thing!