Why the Hillary Everyone Knows Is Under Attack
Policy + Politics

Why the Hillary Everyone Knows Is Under Attack

As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares to formally announce her candidacy for the 2016 presidential election on Sunday through a video on social media, another potential Democratic challenger has stepped up. But not silently.

Former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln D. Chafee, who has been a Republican, an independent and is now a Democrat, revealed plans to explore a bid for the Democratic nomination. A moderate on the environment, immigration reform and long-term spending issues, Chafee has about as much chance of upending Clinton as any other Democrat considering a run in 2016. Yet Chafee, unlike the others, is willing to go after Clinton on a sensitive policy issue.

Related: Voters Question Clinton’s Honesty and Trustworthiness in New Poll

In an interview with The Washington Post yesterday, Chafee blasted Clinton for joining with the Senate majority in 2002 to authorize the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. That decision thrust the U.S. into more than a decade of devastating and costly warfare. Clinton, like 28 other Senators, bought into the administration’s assertions at the time that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction threatening the region.

“I don’t think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake,” Chafee said. “It’s a huge mistake, and we live with broad, broad ramifications today – of instability not only in the Middle East but far beyond and the loss of American credibility. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

In 2008, Clinton defended her vote by saying she “thought it was a vote to put inspectors back in” so that Saddam Hussein could not go unchecked. She said on NBC’s Meet the Press that she and others were personally told “by the White House” this was the resolution’s purpose.

Related: Hillary Clinton’s Popularity Slips, But She Still Tops the Field

That comment seems disingenuous since the resolution cited many factors justifying the use of military force against Iraq. In her 2014 book Hard Choices, Clinton bluntly apologized for her vote: “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong.”

Chafee, a Republican at that time, was the lone senator from his party to break with President George W. Bush and vote against the Iraq war resolution. “I did not make that mistake,” he told The Washington Post.

Chafee’s frontal assault on Clinton is a dramatic departure from the namby-pamby comments of other Democrats and independents thinking of entering the 2016 race. Those include former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and former Virginia senator Jim Webb.  

O’Malley has traveled widely in recent months attempting to drum up interest in a candidacy. But the harshest thing he can say about Clinton is that the country may be tiring of having a Clinton or a Bush in the White House.

Related: Can Hillary Survive Two New Scandals Before She Runs for President?

The former First Lady has been losing ground in the polls, especially in hypothetical matchups with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and other announced or likely candidates for the GOP nomination.

For nearly two years she’s conducted a campaign in waiting, using a book tour and well-paid speeches to whet voters’ appetites for her second bid for the White House while building a campaign organization and raising millions of dollars. But she has frequently stumbled, as she did last year in a nationally televised interview when she said she and former President Bill Clinton left the White House “dead broke.”

The recent flap over revelations she conducted official business while Secretary of State using a private email account and server and that she destroyed tens of thousands of “personal” messages has raised questions about her trustworthiness, recent polls show. Her speeches are usually very general or promote policy ideas such as pay equity and assisting the middle class, issues widely supported by Democrats.  

Related: What Ted Cruz’s Announcement Reveals about His 2016 Campaign

Now, Clinton will need to take more specific positions as well as defend her policies. That will require high-profile speeches to stake out her views on foreign policy, domestic spending, taxes and fiscal problems while answering her critics.

For now, Clinton is keeping major pronouncements to a minimum. In contrast to the high-profile events that Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) staged to announce their GOP campaigns in the past week, Clinton will conduct a low-profile campaign early on, The Washington Post has reported. She’ll meet one-on-one or in small groups to reintroduce herself to voters. That’s more in tune with the extensive “listening tour” she conducted when she first ran for the Senate from New York in 2000, as opposed to how she ran her ill-fated 2008 presidential campaign.

Related: Rand Paul Leads Attack on Hillary over Lewinsky Affair

“Hillary’s announcement is unusual, more like a low-key launch you’d expect from an incumbent,” noted Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “But then she’s one of the most durable political figures in modern history. We already know her so well or think we do.”

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