The presumptive 2016 GOP presidential candidates who showed up at the Republican National Committee's annual winter confab in San Diego did not mention Hillary Clinton, at least not publicly. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, for his part, played it close to the vest and stuck to the basics. He focused on paring down the number of candidate debates, strengthening the party's get-out-the-vote machinery, the more effective use of technology to track and mobilize potential GOP voters, and ways to better tap the donor tree.
Clinton, though, was very much on the RNC's mind. Days earlier, top gun White House advisor John Podesta announced that he'd be joining Clinton's presumed campaign team next month. He is the consummate Democratic Party political insider, power broker, and enforcer. His joining the Clinton team was the much-anticipated and awaited signal that she will run. Expect an announcement to that effect soon.
The RNC hasn't waited for her expected announcement. They have long had a game plan in place to beat Hillary. The plan is simple: Put teams on the ground in Arkansas and anywhere else Hillary and Bill have put their political and personal footprints and dig up every scintilla of old and new dirt it can dredge up against her to torpedo her candidacy even before it's an official candidacy. There will be a barrage of videos that they'll push viral that will remind voters of the old scandals the GOP worked over endlessly to nail Bill and Hillary, and toss in a few fresh ones. The RNC even put out a "poor Hillary" video that rubbed Hillary's quip that she and Bill were "dead broke" when they left the White House. Priebus mocked her by claiming that she shook down poor, cash-strapped universities for her allegedly outrageous speaking fees. This coming from the man whose party has done everything it could to slash and burn education funding and torpedo President Obama's initiatives to boost education.
The GOP isn't banking solely on shoveling dirt on Hillary to render her candidacy stillborn. They also bank on the assumption that the supposed baggage that Hillary carries -- the checklist of trumped-up scandals of the past, from Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal; her support for healthcare reform, which was the prelude to the much-harangued Affordable Care Act; and, most importantly, her alleged cover-up of Benghazi -- will render her an astonishingly divisive candidate. There was little doubt that the first chance the GOP got, it would seize on a real or manufactured Obama foreign-policy flub and make her their hard target. Benghazi proved to be the alleged flub, and the GOP pounced. In August 2013 the Republican National Committee rammed the attack home with a half-minute clip of her Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony earlier that year on the Benghazi attack. The aim, as always, was to embarrass and discredit her not because of her alleged missteps as Secretary of State but because she would likely be a 2016 presidential candidate.
Closer to home, the GOP will play the "L" card with her. That is it will paint her as an unreconstructed liberal who will do what Obama and all Democrats supposedly do: pander to minorities, gays and women. It will cast her as another big-government, tax-and-spend Democrat who will stunt growth and job creation by saddling corporations with burdensome regulations.
Some polls have found that the attack campaign has gotten some traction. Clinton's favorability ratings have dropped, and some of the almost-certain GOP presidential candidates, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, have actually polled well against her in a head-to-head match-up.
The polls haven't singled out any one factor to explain the downtick in her favorability rating. However, the one intangible is the doubt many voters have that her past, her views, and her political style would mark her as a relentless target for GOP attacks once in the White House and thus hamstring her effectiveness in getting things done. If she faced a House still firmly controlled by the GOP and, even worse, a Senate with a GOP majority, it would be nothing but a virtual rerun of the rancor, infighting, and carping that has been the singular feature of the GOP's nonstop, unbroken assault on Obama. In short, as president, Hillary will not be able to get much done no matter her agenda with Congress, and the big loser would again be the country. The lines would be rigidly drawn. The brutal warfare between a Clinton White House and a GOP-dominated Congress would quickly spill over into the public and the media.
Neither Clinton nor any potential GOP 2016 presidential contender has yet to formally declare their candidacy. But that's a mere formality. Clinton is the GOP's target, and the RNC will do everything it can to make sure that whichever GOP candidate emerges from the pack will have all the ammunition he needs to try and beat her. That's the GOP game plan, and it won't change.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of Al Sharpton's show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour, heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.