How the Republican Party blew its best shot at defeating Hillary Clinton
As the Republican primary devolves, Hillary Clinton slips away
Last week, the former presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, gave a nationally televised speech denouncing the current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump responded by saying that Mitt Romney would have gotten down on his knees for Trump's endorsement four year earlier. By that same afternoon, many anti-Trump Republicans had sold themselves on an electoral strategy of splintering the Republican field and going for an all-out fight with Trump at the convention. And then, later that night in a televised debate, Donald Trump promised to be the kind of leader that inspires American servicemen to commit war crimes and rebutted a criticism by Marco Rubio by reassuring the crowd about the size of his penis.
Yes, the Republican debate is just so damn noisy, unsettling, and distracting that Republicans and most of the press have taken their eyes off Hillary Clinton. All the stories about her speeches at Goldman Sachs have dropped from view. So too the mentions of her deep infelicity with the media ("We were dead broke!"). And gone are the embarrassing stories about how Clinton charities act as a kind of global grifting and cronyism operation, enriching the Clintons and allowing corporate and foreign interests to buy their attention and ministrations.
Did you even know, dear reader, that the U.S. bombed portions of Libya in the middle of February this year? The Obama administration is trying to contain the continuing disaster created by the Clinton-led intervention in Libya five years ago. Republicans, however, are plunged into their own civil war over The Donald, and have no time to point out that President Obama is still cleaning up after the mess Secretary Clinton made of his foreign policy. The Libyan state has crumbled, ISIS has moved in, gobbling up untold materiel from the ruins of the Gadhafi regime, neighboring countries like Mali have been severely destabilized, and the refugee crisis in Europe has been exacerbated by Libyan disorder.
"There was one arsenal that we thought had 20,000 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, SA-7s, that basically just disappeared into the maw of the Middle East and North Africa," said former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. While many of these may have been spirited to Syria, what if a dozen of them are fired at commercial airplanes over Europe one afternoon? Shouldn't Republicans already be pressing the case that Clinton had no good reason to believe that the rebel groups could secure weapons like these and govern Libya after the fall of Gadhafi?
Shouldn't Republicans have lit up at the characterization of Clinton's decision-making offered by Ann-Marie Slaughter, who said that "when the choice is between action and inaction, and you've got risks in either direction, which you often do, she'd rather be caught trying." That Clinton would rather be "caught trying" is one of the most damning things that can be said about a presidential nominee.
Republicans could have had a lot of fun in this election cycle, pointing out how Hillary Clinton is now constantly rewriting the history of her husband's administration on topics like same-sex marriage or financial reform. Republicans could be setting her up for fights with the intersectional left on gender politics. For a moment it looked like audience members at New Hampshire town halls were going to flambé her on the incredibly shabby treatment meted out to her husband's paramours and those who claimed he had sexually assaulted them.
Hillary Clinton is still an astonishingly weak campaigner and candidate for president. And the supposedly "deepest field" in the history of Republican nominating contests should have produced a nominee capable of transitioning toward the case against Clinton by the middle of this month. In 2008, John McCain faced a Democratic nominee in Barack Obama who excited people's hopes for the country, who had a short political record, and ran on high idealism. It was a near impossible task to defeat him given the record of George W. Bush. But this time Republicans had the chance to run against a nominee who can be easily covered in the muck of two Democratic administrations, someone who gives off the stench of high-handed corruption and unprincipled ambition.
And it's being thrown away. The fight within the Republican Party has been clarifying and even healthy in some ways, alerting the party's elites to a base of core supporters who were deeply unmoved by the Romney-Ryan platform of 2012. But the bleeding acrimony and outlandish juvenility of the Republican primary has managed to do for Clinton what she was incapable of accomplishing on her own: making her look presidential.