With Hillary Rodham Clinton running well ahead in the polls in the early skirmishing of the 2016 presidential sweepstakes, Republicans have declared open season on the former secretary of state in a seemingly desperate move to slow down her bandwagon.
The 2016 Republican presidential nominating battle is shaping up as the most wide-open in years, with a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showing five prospective candidates within four percentage points of each other at the top and a half-dozen more in the running. The picture is quite different on the Democratic side, where Clinton is the clear front-runner. In a hypothetical matchup, Clinton leads former Florida governor Jeb Bush — who some see as the party’s strongest general-election candidate — 53 percent to 41 percent.
While Clinton is far from having the Democratic nomination and general election sewn up, the grim preliminary assessment of the GOP’s prospects has many Republicans nervous and is prompting early attacks against the former First Lady.
The latest case in point: Republican political strategist Karl Rove strongly suggested at a conference last week that Clinton had suffered traumatic brain injury after falling and suffering a brain clot in late 2012. The one-time political guru to former President George W. Bush said that Clinton will have a lot of explaining to do concerning her hospitalization and medical conditions if she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.
The New York Post’s Page Six reported Monday that Rove, appearing at a conference with former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs and CBS correspondent Dan Raviv last Thursday, prominently raised Clinton’s health issues.
Clinton, weakened by a stomach virus, fell in her Washington, D.C, home in December 2012 and sustained a concussion. Her doctors said a blood clot had formed behind her right ear in the space between her brain and skull. The incident prevented Clinton from testifying on Capitol Hill about the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. September 11, 2012, by Islamic militants that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“Thirty days in the hospital?” Rove said, according to The New York Post report. “And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”
As it turned out, Rove grossly exaggerated Clinton’s hospital stay by ten-fold. And earlier today he insisted during an appearance on Fox News that “I didn’t say she had brain damage.”
“My point was that Hillary Clinton wants to run for president, but she would not be human if this [medical incident] didn’t enter in as a consideration. And my other point is that this will be an issue in the 2016 race if she likes it or not.”
Regardless of what he said or meant to say, the crafty Rove achieved his goal by raising doubts about the 66-year-old Clinton’s health and ability to serve as chief executive. Nicolle Wallace, who was communications chief during the presidency of George W. Bush and his 2004 reelection campaign and worked closely with Rove, said today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “Karl did not raise this issue by accident. … This was a deliberate strategy on his part to raise her health as an issue.”
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton, took strong exception to Rove’s claims in a statement: “From the moment this happened 17 months ago, the right has politicized her health. First they accused her of faking it, now they’ve resorted to the other extreme – and are flat out lying. Even this morning, Karl Rove is still all over the map and is continuing to get the facts wrong. But he doesn’t care, because all he wants to do is inject the issue into the echo chamber, and he’s succeeding. It’s flagrant and thinly veiled. They are scared of what she has achieved and what she has to offer. What he’s doing is its own form of sickness. But she is 100 percent, period. Time for them to move on to their next desperate attack.”
Meanwhile, last Friday Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky – a Republican presidential aspirant – took another potshot at Clinton over the Benghazi incident. He said that Clinton had “precluded herself” from being President because of how she handled the attack and its aftermath at the State Department.
"The thing is, this is about judgment," Paul said at the Republican National Committee's spring meeting in Memphis, Tenn. "And we're talking about; should we as a country have a commander-in-chief who didn't provide adequate security in Libya, didn't send reinforcements and then gave us nothing but spin? . . . My opinion is that Hillary Clinton has precluded herself from ever being considered for that position.”
Back in January, Sen. Rand Paul said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that Democrats and those in the media criticizing Republicans for a so-called "War on Women" give a free pass to former President Bill Clinton's "predatory behavior" against Monica Lewinsky.
When asked whether Hillary Clinton should be judged on her husband’s deviant behavior, Paul said no, but added that when it comes to dealing with Hillary and Bill Clinton, “It's hard enough to separate one from the other.”
Lewinsky resurfaced with a Vanity Fair essay she wrote about her struggle during the last decade, detailing her inability to find a job and her feelings about what she insisted was a “consensual” relationship with former President Bill Clinton. She faulted Hillary Clinton for engaging in a “blame-the-woman” mentality by dubbing her a “narcissistic loony toon” to the former first lady’s late confidante, Diane Blair.
Lynne Cheney, the wife of the former vice president, picked up the Lewinsky story quickly, telling Fox News host Bill O’Reilly: “I really wonder if this isn’t an effort on the Clintons’ part to get that story out of the way.” It was a sentiment some other hosts on the network echoed.
Pollster John Zogby said Republicans are desperate to try to somehow slow the Clinton presidential juggernaut by raising issues and controversies they hope will discourage her from running – including the Benghazi controversy and her health. He noted that a few prominent Democrats, including former Clinton White House spokesman Mike McCurry, have voiced doubt that she will run for president.
“This provides the Republicans with an opening to make the same suggestion and try to drive a wedge there,” Zogby said in an interview today. “At this moment in time, she’s so far ahead and ... the Republicans are so far behind . . . that at the very least they’ve got to start the process of making this race interesting.”
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