The Conservative Playbook Against Hillary Clinton

A new book gives a sneak peek of how Republicans will try to define Clinton in 2016.

So many choices.
National Journal
Emma Roller
June 10, 2014, 1:20 a.m.

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s book is out Tues­day, and the me­dia will not stop talk­ing about it des­pite its lack of rev­el­at­ory in­form­a­tion. In fact, the very lack of news con­tained in the book is be­ing used as evid­ence that Hard Choices must be a cam­paign book — a sym­bol­ic token every pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate must of­fer to con­stitu­ents in pa­per­back.

An­oth­er book about Hil­lary Clin­ton was also pub­lished this week, but this one comes from a su­per PAC mak­ing its case against an­oth­er Clin­ton pres­id­ency. On Sunday, the con­ser­vat­ive Amer­ica Rising PAC re­leased its own book on the former first lady, sen­at­or, and sec­ret­ary of State, iron­ic­ally titled Failed Choices.

The ebook is pub­lished by Amer­ica Rising, an op­pos­i­tion re­search or­gan­iz­a­tion set up in 2013 by former Mitt Rom­ney cam­paign man­ager Matt Rhoades and former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­men Tim Miller and Joe Pound­er ded­ic­ated to track­ing and (in their words) “ex­pos­ing” Demo­crats, es­pe­cially Hil­lary Clin­ton. The book is 112 pages long — an al­lu­sion to the num­ber of coun­tries Clin­ton vis­ited dur­ing her time as sec­ret­ary of State — and serves as a play­book for how con­ser­vat­ives may at­tack Clin­ton on her for­eign policy re­cord, come 2016.

“At the end of Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton’s ten­ure, there was no re­gion in the world where our al­li­ances were stronger and our en­emies weak­er thanks to Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton’s dip­lomacy,” the e-book’s au­thors write. “In her book and on her pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, she will spin, ex­ag­ger­ate, and lie to try to turn these fail­ures in­to ac­com­plish­ments. But no amount of white­wash­ing or polit­ic­al spin can pro­tect her from her re­cord.”

Be­low: a con­densed set of rules for con­ser­vat­ives who want to cri­ti­cize Clin­ton’s for­eign policy re­cord, and a look at what we can ex­pect to see over the next two years if she does run for pres­id­ent.

Rule #1: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi

The 2012 ter­ror­ist at­tack at the U.S. Em­bassy in Benghazi has be­come the premi­er scan­dal Re­pub­lic­ans are us­ing to rail against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. And for them, Clin­ton is at the cen­ter of its heart of dark­ness. This has be­come a Re­pub­lic­an man­tra over the past two years, and while people think Clin­ton bungled the situ­ation in Benghazi, it hasn’t really des­troyed her repu­ta­tion in the way con­ser­vat­ives thought it would. (Re­mem­ber how Chuck Hagel’s re­cord on Is­rael was go­ing to ru­in his chances of be­com­ing De­fense Sec­ret­ary?)

But un­like the pop­u­lar claim among con­ser­vat­ives that Benghazi was a cov­er-up, Amer­ica Rising PAC puts forth a more re­fined ar­gu­ment in its book: Clin­ton put the wheels in mo­tion that even­tu­ally led to the em­bassy at­tack. “It was this un­rav­el­ing of the gov­ern­ment of Libya and the coun­try’s vi­ol­ent des­cent in­to ji­hadist con­trol that serves as the back­drop for the events lead­ing up to the tra­gic ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Benghazi on Septem­ber 11, 2012,” the au­thors write.

The book also cites former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates’s mem­oir as proof of Clin­ton’s na­iv­eté about the situ­ation in Libya. Gates didn’t men­tion Clin­ton spe­cific­ally, but wrote, “The ad­voc­ates of mil­it­ary ac­tion ex­pec­ted a short, easy fight. How many times in his­tory had that naïve as­sump­tion been proven wrong?”

And if neither of those points work, there’s al­ways time to quote Clin­ton’s in­fam­ous Benghazi testi­mony. When asked about the State De­part­ment ori­gin­ally at­trib­ut­ing the at­tack to an anti-Muslim video, Clin­ton replied, “What dif­fer­ence, at this point, does it make?” What was meant as an ex­as­per­ated re­sponse to the hear­ing has be­come Clin­ton’s “47 per­cent” mo­ment to con­ser­vat­ives.

Rule #2: “Name one thing “¦ “

When faced with a Hil­lary 2016 sup­port­er, con­ser­vat­ive com­ment­at­ors will in­ev­it­ably de­mand them to “name one thing Hil­lary Clin­ton ac­com­plished as first lady/sen­at­or/sec­ret­ary of State!” (This de­mand shall hence­forth be known as the Krau­tham­mer.) It’s a ques­tion that’s also been asked by Bill Kris­tol, Hugh He­witt, An­drew Sul­li­van, and the con­ser­vat­ive Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter.

A few ex­amples from the book:

  • At a re­cent for­um hos­ted by The New York Times, Thomas Fried­man asked Clin­ton what ac­com­plish­ment she was most proud of as sec­ret­ary of State: “In a long-win­ded re­sponse that ran over two minutes, Clin­ton began by say­ing it was her job only to pass the bat­on, then ticked off a series of ex­cuses but failed to men­tion a single con­crete ac­com­plish­ment” (What Clin­ton ac­tu­ally said was she was rep­res­ent­ing the U.S. around the world while Obama was deal­ing with the re­ces­sion at home, but point taken.)
  • “State De­part­ment Spokes­wo­man Jen Psaki — a top aide on Obama’s reelec­tion cam­paign — was one of the first to be caught in the col­lat­er­al dam­age of ‘what did Clin­ton achieve?’ ques­tion. Pressed re­peatedly to name a single ac­com­plish­ment from Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton’s 2010 Quad­ren­ni­al Strategy Re­view “¦ Psaki came up empty.”
  • Politico ed­it­or Susan Glass­er de­scribed how not even an ‘ar­dent de­fend­er’ of Clin­ton’s could name a single ac­com­plish­ment.”
  • Quot­ing Sul­li­van: “I was hav­ing din­ner with a real Clin­ton fan the oth­er night, and I ac­tu­ally stumped him (and he’s not eas­ily stumped). What have been Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ma­jor, sig­na­ture ac­com­plish­ments in her long ca­reer in pub­lic life?”

It’s a val­id ques­tion, but it’s also overly simplist­ic. Ask­ing for “one thing” that ex­em­pli­fies the suc­cess of U.S. in­ter­na­tion­al dip­lomacy is sort of like ask­ing for the one reas­on the U.S. lost the Vi­et­nam War. And Clin­ton her­self has a re­but­tal; The Wash­ing­ton Post has a good roundup of the achieve­ments she lists in her book.

Rule #3: She’s too weak!

Lib­er­als of­ten de­ride Clin­ton for her hawk­ish­ness, but con­ser­vat­ives see her as a pushover. She can’t win — push too hard and she’s an un­re­lent­ing harpy; try to take a nu­anced ap­proach and she wants Amer­ica to be the world’s doormat.

Failed Choices first links Rus­sia’s tense re­la­tions with the U.S. to the reas­on for the con­tin­ued mas­sacres in Syr­ia. “The Re­set hurt Amer­ica’s stand­ing in the world be­cause it back­fired so badly,” the au­thors write. “It failed to pre­vent in­no­cent Syr­i­ans from be­ing murdered by Rus­si­an weapons. It failed to pro­tect journ­al­ists, gays, and dis­sid­ents from be­ing jailed in Rus­sia.”

The au­thors ar­gue that Clin­ton “heaped praise” on Rus­sia by telling an in­ter­view­er, “We view Rus­sia as a great power.” They gloss over the fact that she went on to com­pare Putin to Hitler. (Putin more re­cently re­tor­ted, “It’s bet­ter not to ar­gue with wo­men.”)

Rule #4: “She’s too ag­gress­ive (against Is­rael)!”

The au­thors of Failed Choices ad­mit that Clin­ton was a “staunchly pro-Is­rael sen­at­or,” but they ar­gue she “be­came a lead­ing crit­ic of Is­rael with­in the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Their evid­ence for this loss of sup­port for Is­rael? Clin­ton back­tracked on her pledge for an “un­di­vided Jer­u­s­alem,” op­posed show­ing cred­ible force to in­vade Ir­an, and “only” vis­ited Is­rael five times as sec­ret­ary of State. The au­thors point out that, by com­par­is­on, Con­doleezza Rice made 25 trips to Is­rael when she was sec­ret­ary of State. What they don’t point out is that Rice vis­ited 29 few­er coun­tries than Clin­ton, and brokered a deal with Is­rael in 2005 to with­draw from Palestini­an ter­rit­or­ies.

Failed Choices ac­cuses Clin­ton of op­pos­ing new Is­raeli set­tle­ments; Clin­ton, mean­while, says she “ex­pressed quiet re­ser­va­tions” about Obama’s pro­pos­al to stop Is­rael­is from build­ing new set­tle­ments. The most petty claim in Failed Choices is that un­named Is­raeli of­fi­cials were “un­happy about be­ing left out” of a con­fer­ence hos­ted in Tur­key on coun­terter­ror­ism.

None of these ac­cus­a­tions ex­actly make Clin­ton a Friend of Hamas, but in 2016, Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats will seek suc­cor from pro-Is­rael voters — and donors. It’s im­port­ant to keep up ap­pear­ances.

Rule #5: Clin­ton Inc.

Paint­ing Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton as a well-heeled polit­ic­al dyn­asty is noth­ing new. But in Failed Choices, the au­thors go bey­ond that de­pic­tion, call­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton a “sales­per­son for se­lect U.S. busi­ness in­terests” by us­ing “eco­nom­ic state­craft.”

The au­thors high­light a few shady deals, im­ply­ing pay-to-play. Huma Abedin, a long­time Clin­ton aide (and An­thony Wein­er’s long-suf­fer­ing spouse), did not dis­close that she worked for the con­sult­ing firm Teneo while she was still work­ing for Clin­ton. Though no real foul play came to light, con­ser­vat­ives would love for Teneo to be­come for Clin­ton what Solyn­dra was to Barack Obama, or GreenTech Auto­mot­ive was to Vir­gin­ia Gov. Terry McAul­iffe (a close friend of the Clin­tons). Still, it’s good to re­mem­ber that both Obama and McAul­iffe won their re­spect­ive elec­tions.

The book also notes that Boe­ing donated $2 mil­lion to a Shang­hai Expo, pos­sibly vi­ol­at­ing the State De­part­ment’s code of eth­ics. The de­fense com­pany also donated $900,000 to the Clin­ton Found­a­tion in 2010.

Boe­ing isn’t the only big-name con­tract­or the book goes after; an­oth­er one is a name you may not have heard in awhile: Black­wa­ter. Des­pite Clin­ton’s pledge to ban Black­wa­ter from gov­ern­ment con­tracts when she ran for pres­id­ent in 2008, the State De­part­ment con­tin­ued to em­ploy the com­pany (after it changed its name to Aca­demi). It’s an in­ter­est­ing tac­tic: If any­thing, Re­pub­lic­ans should be try­ing to tie Clin­ton to George W. Bush — not Obama — to irk pro­gress­ive voters. Groups like Amer­ica Rising don’t ex­actly need to make the case to fel­low con­ser­vat­ives to hate Clin­ton.

Failed Choices is a good coun­ter­point to Hard Choices, in that they spin in op­pos­ite dir­ec­tions. If you were to read them both, you’d prob­ably get a nearly com­plete pic­ture of Clin­ton’s re­cent polit­ic­al struggles. But then again, why would you want to do that to your­self?

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