Hillary, Facing Herd of GOP Rivals, Has Work Cut Out
In Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech Monday to launch his campaign, a casual viewer could be forgiven for assuming his mention of “a leader from yesterday” referred to President Obama
But Rubio was instead alluding to Hillary Clinton — not the sitting president, but an aspiring one.
Clinton, officially a candidate for one day, is already being treated by Republicans and most Democrats less as a normal presidential candidate than as an incumbent, an unusual dynamic that could play at once to her benefit and detriment.
Unlike in 2012, when Democrats anticipated Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination and could confidently zero in on him, there is no clear GOP frontrunner for Clinton and the Democrats to target. Since Democrats don't know who they’re fighting, they’re spread thin, forced to pay attention to the entire field of potential GOP nominees.
Republicans, meanwhile, have had the luxury of attacking Clinton exclusively from the outset, with outside groups aggressively calling out her missteps, and the first Republican candidate having already run an attack ad.
“Hillary Clinton represents the worst of the Washington machine,” the ad from Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign said.
A laser focus on Clinton could take a toll on her popularity—as it did Romney’s—but being the Republicans’ sole target is not necessarily a liability. It’s true that Clinton will have to fend off wave after wave of attacks from Republicans confident of who their opponent will be. It’s also true that it reflects the likelihood that for a full year and a half, the GOP faces the monumental challenge of competing against a unified Democratic front.
The network of groups supporting Clinton, including EMILY’s List and Priorities USA, are prepared to bring in as much as $2.5 billion — a staggering sum Republicans will be hard-pressed to match.
“She has a massive organization that is ready to destroy anyone who gets in her way,” said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for the Republican opposition research outfit America Rising. “We know what we’re up against.”
With that money and relative unity, Democrats will be able to bolster Clinton’s personal brand — but attacking Republicans will pose a greater strategic puzzle, because an obvious GOP frontrunner has not emerged. Whereas Democrats were able to define Mitt Romney early during the last presidential election, their resources will be spread this time among a handful of Republican contenders.
Of course, Democrats see opportunity in a competitive Republican primary, too.
"A wide open Republican field makes it more likely that on a given day their candidates are going to show just how out of the mainstream they are and suck up all the oxygen on the right,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of American Bridge 21st Century.
Woodhouse pointed to the controversial “religious freedom” law signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican. Although Pence is unlikely to run for president this cycle, other Republicans seeking the presidency were compelled to respond to Pence’s decision, and their statements kept the story in the news.
“Frankly, this dynamic helps to drive our message and makes the cost of the GOP nomination prohibitively high. Whoever emerges from the Republican primary is going to be badly bruised for the general — just like Mitt Romney was in 2012,” Woodhouse added. “And we all know how that worked out."
But Hillary Clinton is not truly an incumbent, and so she will not enjoy all of the advantages Obama did in 2012. And she has not yet mounted a successful presidential campaign.
“In this particular race, normal circumstances don’t apply,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “She has nearly 100 percent name ID, and normally that’s a good thing. But I think in this case it’s not. She’s not your typical incumbent.”
Republicans hope to capitalize on polling that has shown voters do not view Clinton as trustworthy, such as a recent Quinnipiac University survey conducted in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.
And Republicans are hopeful that, although they will not have the advantage of a broad field of Democrats committing gaffes, the Clintons’ broad network of allies will provide ample fodder for political attacks.
“The web of Clinton associates is so massive at this point that anyone who has been in Democratic politics in the last 20 to 30 years could potentially be associated with the Clintons,” Bechdel said. “They’re going to have a hard time reining all of these people in.”