Monday, July 30, 2007

The GOP Hearts Hillary

It's not exactly a secret that the Republicans intensely desire to run against Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president in 2008.

All you have to do is speak to any GOP political type to find this out.

The media has finally decided to report on this idea. But they are pretending that it is a new development.

Since when is Hillary Clinton the pin-up gal of conservative pundits?

After Clinton delivered a foreign-policy cold-cock to Barack Obama's head during a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday:

— Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a neo-conservative weekly, wrote that she delivered her answer to the now-famous "would-you-meet-with-despots" question "firmly and coolly."

— Rich Lowry of National Review, a conservative weekly, gushed like a schoolboy with a new crush: "She excels . . . Clinton has run a nearly flawless campaign and has done more than any other Democrat to show she's ready to be president."

— David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, wrote that Clinton "seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change" and said she's changing perceptions in a way that may persuade voters to give her a second look.

— Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist of The Washington Post, summed up the Clinton-Obama smackdown: "The grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie."

All this from members of a crowd that's spent the better part of two decades demonizing Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Is the conservative chattering class just hedging its bets, wary that Clinton might win the White House and banish them all?

Or is it a set-up: The vast right-wing conspiracy pumping up the polarizing candidate they really want to face in the general election?

Naturally, no one in politics wants to talk about that with their names attached, lest they alienate people whose favor they need. But here's what some political strategists said when given anonymity:

"Absolutely," said one Democrat, citing Clinton's high unfavorable ratings (42 percent in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, twice Obama's 21 percent). "Look at Fox News. They play her up all the time. Image-wise, they think she's the one Democrat they can beat right now."

"A plausible theory," said a Republican strategist with a top-tier GOP candidate. "Hillary Clinton is our best shot to win the White House. That's pretty much consensus by Republican insiders. It's a really crappy environment for us right now. What she does, and what Obama doesn't do yet, is single-handedly solve our base problems. Because of who she is."

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