John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Scandals Alone Won’t Stop Clinton

Posted on May 4, 2015

"120214-D-TT977-225" by Secretary of Defense - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

(This originally appeared in The Hill)

There’s no way that draft-dodger is going to beat the president.”

I made that bold prediction at a rehearsal dinner a few months before the 1992 election, and I was convinced that the scandals that had plagued Bill Clinton would disqualify him in the eyes of the American people.

Others took a different view. The economy had lackluster growth, President George H.W. Bush seemed disinterested in a domestic agenda and Clinton seemed young and energetic.

Working for the House Republican leadership, I had worked hard on exposing Clinton’s sordid past. He had traveled to Moscow when he was a college student and then organized anti-war protests when he came back. He lied to avoid military service, a nice contrast to the heroic record of Bush. The sex stuff was just starting to pop.

But none of that really mattered in the end.

Bush had no compelling plan to move the country forward, while soon-to-be President Clinton made clear that his campaign was all about the economy, stupid.

The GOP didn’t stop probing into scandals during the eight years that Bill Clinton occupied the White House — and there were plenty of them, from “Travelgate” to Monica Lewinsky.

But it wasn’t Clinton’s scandals that delivered Republicans their first majority in 40 years. It was Clinton’s policies, more specifically, an unpopular effort to impose stricter gun controls and a failed effort to revamp the healthcare system.

And the scandals failed to drive Clinton out of office, despite the impeachment proceedings against him. In fact, he left office more popular than when he entered it.

I say all this to make one simple point: Scandals don’t stop the Clintons. So, we shouldn’t put all our eggs in that basket.

Like her husband, Hillary Clinton has attracted her fair share of juicy controversies.

Her tenure at the State Department seems to have been just one big scandal, from Benghazi to “Emailgate” to the Clinton Foundation.

And they have had an impact on her ratings. She is deemed less honest than she once was in the latest surveys.

Despite this dent in her favorability, Hillary Clinton still hasn’t attracted top-level primary opposition (no offense, Bernie), and in most head-to-head match-ups, she far outpaces just about every Republican contender.

The GOP can’t count on scandals to derail the Clinton juggernaut. Instead, it needs to develop sound policy alternatives targeted at crucial swing voters.

Republicans should listen to focus groups made up of female voters, who most polls show have a strong desire to elect the first woman president.

They could start by listening to some of their colleagues, like Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) in the House and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in the Senate, who face tough races for reelection and need to attract female voters in order to win.

Republicans don’t have to change their principled positions on some social issues, but they don’t have to lead with their chins either.

Democrats are more than happy to change the subject from the many failures of the Obama administration. They want this election to be about abortion and gay marriage, because they believe that they can portray the GOP as reactionary.

That is especially true of Hillary Clinton, whose basic argument is that it’s time for a woman to run the country, and it might as well be her.

I don’t know what best resonates with female voters from a policy perspective, but I do know from past elections that making families more secure is a powerful argument. Economic security, national security (especially in the context of terrorist threats like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and personal security are all good themes for the GOP to explore.

At the end of the day, it is married women who decide elections, especially presidential elections. If the GOP loses this demographic, Hillary Clinton will be the next president.

Most married women don’t care about scandals. The Republican Party should start offering solutions about things they do care about.