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Hillary: the right's choice?

Leading conservatives are making positive noises about the candidate.

August 10, 2007|Bruce Bartlett | Bruce Bartlett was a domestic policy advisor for President Reagan.

Is hell freezing over? One might think so after reading recent comments from editors at National Review and the Weekly Standard, America's leading conservative magazines. Over the last 15 years, both magazines seldom have passed up an opportunity to excoriate Hillary Rodham Clinton as some kind of crypto-communist.

No more. Today, Sen. Clinton is rapidly becoming not merely acceptable to many right-wingers but possibly even their candidate of choice.

Listen to Kathryn Lopez, editor of National Review Online, who was blogging live during the AFL-CIO Democratic debate Tuesday in Chicago: "In response to more than a few answers tonight -- on Iraq, on China -- I've said, 'She sounds reasonable.' "

Lopez wasn't being facetious. She seemed, in fact, disturbed by her unexpected positive feelings toward Clinton. "That's really hard to admit," she wrote. "I still have both 'Clinton Hater' and 'Vast-Right-Wing Conspiracy' cards in my wallet."

Lopez needn't worry. Her boss, National Review Editor Rich Lowry, also has had strangely respectful thoughts lately about Clinton. In a July 27 column, he expressed genuine admiration for her political skill, especially in managing to placate the left wing of the Democratic Party on Iraq without repudiating her vote for the war nor making herself patently unacceptable as a potential commander in chief. It was "brilliant politics," Lowry conceded.

Clinton's unwillingness to pander to her own party's base on Iraq has won her grudging respect from another unlikely source as well: William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. On Aug. 7, he was quoted in the Washington Post saying that compared with Sen. Barack Obama, who is trying to energize the left to raise his falling poll numbers, she is looking quite presidential.

"Obama," Kristol said, "is becoming the antiwar candidate, and Hillary Clinton is becoming the responsible Democrat who could become commander in chief in a post-9/11 world."

What's interesting is how quickly the right's view of Clinton has evolved. Just in May, I published a National Review column that simply noted that she clearly is the most conservative of the three major candidates for the Democratic nomination -- and for that, Pat Toomey of the right-wing Club for Growth called me "crazy."

The motive for my original article was a calculation that a Republican can't win the presidency next year; none of the party's candidates look strong enough to overcome the handicaps that President Bush has imposed on them. Therefore, I had no choice but to size up the Democrats from a conservative point of view. Which one is least bad?

On economics, Clinton seemed likely to be a rerun of her husband's administration: fiscally conservative, free-trade-oriented, pragmatic. She confirmed my conclusion in a May 29 speech on economic policy. In it, Clinton said, "There is no greater force for economic growth than free markets." That's about as good as any conservative can hope for from a Democrat.

Clinton's voting record also shows that she is far from the most liberal member of the Senate. According to the National Journal, she ranked 32nd last year, with a rating of 70.2 (100 being perfectly liberal). Obama, by contrast, was significantly more liberal, with a rating of 86.

Of course, Clinton is far more liberal than any of the major Republican candidates and few, if any, conservatives will vote for her should she get the Democratic nomination, which seems increasingly likely. But I'm starting to see the makings of a rapprochement between Clinton and the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

This could have important political implications. There are lots of different ways to fight a battle. At one extreme, one can fight to the death like a trapped rat; at the other, one can offer only token resistance. Not long ago, I thought most conservatives would have employed the trapped-rat option at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

But at least a few conservative opinion-makers are ratcheting downward their level of resistance. They are coming to terms with the growing likelihood that she will be our next president and concluding that maybe it is something they can live with.

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