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Thank God for Republicans

Campaign Roadmap. A continuing series of articles analyzing the 2000 presidential strategies.

May 21, 2000|Robert G. Beckel | Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst, served as campaign manager for Walter F. Mondale in 1984

WASHINGTON — Friday, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani withdrew from the U.S. Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Big political news? Frankly, it doesn't really matter. But in or out, Giuliani has become yet another example of how the Republicans have repeatedly been one of the Clintons' greatest assets. It appears that the blessed incompetence of the GOP in its many losing battles against President Bill Clinton has reached out its benevolent hand to embrace the first lady in her longshot bid for the Senate.

Time and again, when the Clintons appeared to be down for the count, Republicans, like the angel Gabriel, have lifted them to their feet. Examples abound.

In 1993, every Republican in the House opposed Clinton's economic plan of modest tax increases and market-oriented fiscal restraint. Republicans insisted it would throw the economy into recession. As it turned out, the plan was the beginning of the greatest economic expansion in U.S. history. Since then, Clinton has used the GOP's opposition to his plan as a club to beat back every Republican economic proposal since, including the old GOP standby, tax cuts.

Next came the GOP-controlled Congress led by Newt Gingrich. Who can forget the universal opinion in early 1995 that Clinton was becoming irrelevant? But from closing down the federal government in 1995 to the GOP's insistence on high-profile hearings to prove that Vincent W. Foster didn't commit suicide but was murdered in a Clinton cover-up, Gingrich and his merry followers gave Clinton all the ammunition he needed to expose the GOP as right-wing ideologues more interested in partisanship than patriotism. If Clinton had not had Gingrich in those years, he would have had to invent him. Newt: The gift that kept on giving.

Then there was Monica, a self-inflicted political wound if there ever was one. Even as skilled a politician as Clinton should not have survived that horror show. But, once again, the GOP rode to Clinton's rescue. The public quickly grew weary of the sordid saga, but the Republicans pressed on right through impeachment. It was the GOP that paid the price for Monica in the '98 congressional elections, not Clinton. Go figure.

Now comes the New York Senate race. Here's Hillary Clinton from Illinois by way of Arkansas carpetbagging her way to run in New York. What an insane idea. Was it to get even with Bill over Monica? Surely, it wasn't because she could win. No way.

Most political observers agreed. (For the record, I said in January that I hoped she wouldn't run for fear that the Republicans would put her through hell again but, if she did, she would win.) What was left out of the equation was the Republican potential to do for Hillary what they have done for Bill the last eight years.

First, the GOP picked the popular (so they thought) Republican mayor of New York City as the candidate most likely to crush Hillary. Second, the GOP, once again, underestimated the first lady. She is a tenacious and hard-working candidate who has spent more days in upstate New York, the GOP's base, this year than Rudy has in his whole life. Third, the Republicans let their most right-wing politicians, along with their right-wing talk-show sidekicks, take the lead in attacking Hillary. Predictably, they overplayed their hand and created a sympathetic backlash for the first lady. Not to mention that the right's main theme against Hillary--morality and family values--disintegrated when Giuliani took to the microphones and announced his intention to divorce his wife after revealing a love affair, all without telling his wife first. There is a God!

Now the GOP must chose a successor to Giuliani. New York Gov. George E. Pataki would be the strongest candidate, and though he says he won't run there will be a great deal of pressure on him to enter. If not, Hillary will probably face Rep. Rick Lazio from Long Island. He's an attractive candidate and will have no problem raising money. But it doesn't matter. With history as a guide, Lazio--like other Republicans who have faced off against the Clintons--will find a way to shoot himself in the foot. Count on it!

So what is it about the Clintons that brings out the worst instincts in Republicans? Sure, the Clintons have been lucky, but most successful politicians have some measure of luck. Sure, the Clintons are superb politicians who will go to great lengths to do what it takes to win. What, the Republicans don't?

The Clintons bring out deep-seated hatred and irrational behavior in their enemies. Even reasonable Republicans like Ronald Reagan's speech writer Peggy Noonan lose it. Just read her book, "The Case Against Hillary Clinton." Republicans cannot accept the fact that the Clintons have beat them despite their many flaws. It is almost like a son unable to let go of his mother, even after her death. And for the GOP, death is near. Hillary was their last hope at revenge.

But now there appears the real possibility that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the next senator from New York. If so, may I suggest Republicans stay away from tall buildings with ledges that day. One more piece of unsolicited advice: LET IT GO! *

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