For months, potential Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race have been springing up faster than a speeding bullet. The crowded field promises to include multiple representatives from each of the party’s factions, all vying for the mainstream support needed to clinch the official nod. Some speculate that the breadth of choices will weaken the party’s 2016 bid by fracturing the base and hindering efforts to present a cohesive message.
On the other side, Hillary Clinton has very much been the anointed one for the Democrats. The Ready for Hillary Super PAC, which has aimed to persuade Clinton to run in ’16, started gaining major support as early as 2013. There have only been murmurs of Clinton alternatives since then. Elizabeth Warren has already insisted that she won’t run. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley? Maybe, but it’s more likely that he’s just positioning himself as a future VP pick. Current Vice President Joe Biden? Has he thought about how he’d explain this?
If the myriad of messages sent by potential Republican candidates for the White House risks dividing an audience, then the unity around Hillary’s case ought to be a strength, right? As we’ve seen in the past month, the constant illumination of the spotlight can have serious drawbacks. While there have been almost more Republicans dipping their feet into the pool than the media can keep up with, their solitary focus on Hillary Clinton on the left has amplified the effects of 2016’s first big scandal: Clinton’s use of a personal email account and private server during her time at the State Department.
Since New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt broke the story on March 2, the commentary and criticism has been constant from voices on both sides of the aisle. Longtime Freedom of Information Act guru Dan Metcalfe called the defense of her actions “laughable.” Influential Democrats, like former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, have publicly questioned the readiness of her campaign apparatus. Of course, right-leaning commentators and Republican strategists have had a field day. On Fox News, National Review editor Rich Lowry claimed the whole thing “just stinks to high heaven,” and raised questions about the controversial finances of the Clinton Global Initiative that she might be trying to conceal. In a bizarre twist, Mitt Romney displayed a sense of humor, zinging her during his recent appearance on The Tonight Show.
But perhaps the most damaging aspect of this snafu is what it evokes. The media’s fixation on Hillary as the Democratic nominee jogs memories of the litany of controversies associated with Bill’s presidency and the Clinton machine’s penchant for spin. That’s why Republican media strategist Rick Wilson urged fellow GOP-ers to simply “stay out of the way” and let the public’s recollection of the Clinton’s “hillbilly hustle” do its work for them.
The funny thing is, likely Republican candidate Jeb Bush also used at least one private email account and server to conduct public business as governor of Florida. Speaking of transparency, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reportedly received $1.5 million from a secret source, now revealed to be billionaire John Menard Jr., during his 2012 recall campaign. Since then, Menard’s company has received $1.8 million in tax credits from a state economic development corporation chaired by Walker, in addition to other coincidental perks. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), also poised to run, has a messy financial record, allegedly double-billing taxpayers for flights, and advocating on behalf of a friend and fellow Florida legislator accused of major campaign finance transgressions. And according to the Campaign Legal Center’s Paul S. Ryan, all of these folks are probably violating the federal $2,700 per donor candidate limit already. Yet, none of these controversies have dominated the news cycle quite like Hillary’s emails.
Surely, the aforementioned issues with Republican candidates will receive attention as the media’s 2016 campaign coverage starts humming like a nuclear reactor. Until then, those on the left should hope that coverage of the Democratic approach to 2016 doesn’t equate to rifling through Hillary Clinton’s baggage.