Competing against Hillary in the primaries is a delicate matter. “The conventional wisdom says that to beat Hillary Clinton, you’ve got to beat her up,” says Jarding, co-author of the just-published Foxes in the Henhouse: How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must Do to Run ’Em Out. “But I don’t believe that. You have to show that you can beat her by beating everyone else. You’ve got to separate yourself from the pack, and you have to beat these second-tier guys, if you want to get to Hillary.”
Then, if needed, there will be an alternative. “If there are enough Democratic leaders who fear Hillary Clinton as a candidate, then they better step up to the plate and say, ‘We love Hillary, we love the Clintons, we just don’t think she can win, and we’ve collectively gotten behind candidate X.’ ”
The vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary spoke of is not currently much of a conspiracy—it’s more like a lucrative cottage industry. In addition to the Websites and the novelty items like T-shirts, bumper stickers, and playing cards, there are huge consulting fees, expensive direct-mail campaigns, and an endless stream of serious, slanderous, humorous, and ponderous books.
Just published is I’ve Always Been a Yankees Fan: Hillary Clinton in Her Own Words, by Tom Kuiper. Coming in the next few months are books by John Podhoretz (Can She Be Stopped?: Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States, Unless . . .) and David Horowitz and Richard Poe (The Shadow Party: How Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and the Sixties Left Took Over the Democratic Party).
There are a few dedicated Websites like StopHerNow.com and StopHillaryPac.com, a couple of blogs, and the odd event here and there like last summer’s publication of The Truth About Hillary, Ed Klein’s embarrassingly lame, sleazy attempt to eviscerate her. (Throughout the book, he refers to her as “the Big Girl” and tries to portray her as a lesbian based on the fact that she’s had close friends and aides who were gay.)
And there is a steady, low hum of harsh, thinly sourced anti-Hillary stories that serve almost as background music on right-wing Websites like Newsmax.com, WorldNetDaily.com, and RightWingNews.com. Though there is no formal structure to the anti-Hillary movement, no vast right-wing conspiracy, what gives it cohesion is that many of the key characters pop up again and again. NewsMax, for example, is funded by conservative donor Richard Mellon Scaife, a veteran of the Clinton wars.
Her self-discipline, a political asset in many ways, carries a cost. She can seem inhuman.
The site is run by Chris Ruddy, who worked for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which is owned by Scaife. Ruddy, a longtime Clinton antagonist who wrote The Strange Death of Vince Foster, has for years promoted bizarre conspiracy theories claiming, among other things, that Foster and Clinton administration Commerce secretary Ron Brown were murdered. StopHerNow.com, essentially a fund-raising vehicle that has so far failed to raise any real money, was the brainchild of the hermitlike Republican political consultant Arthur Finkelstein.
The Clintons are among the most vilified and investigated politicians in American history. Having withstood every conceivable attack, Hillary can’t be Swift-Boated. She is the indestructible political equivalent of one of those horror-movie villains like Freddy or Jason—she gets hacked, stabbed, shot, and set on fire, and she still keeps coming.
Most surprisingly, many leading conservative activists—politically muscular, testosterone-laden tough guys—are afraid of her. They seem to be more convinced of her viability as a national candidate than are some members of her own party.
“She’s an articulate socialist who’ll go to great lengths to get power, to hold power, and to destroy those who stand in her way,” says conservative activist Richard Viguerie. “A lot of us remember the conservative organizations that were audited by the IRS during their eight years in the White House. She scares the dickens out of us.”
But it goes even further. There is a commonly held belief that for eight years, Hillary was the wizard standing behind the curtain pushing all the buttons. “During his presidency,” Keene says, “she was seen as the evil genius. The attack dogs, the Sidney Blumenthals, were Hillary’s friends, not his. She’s the tough, no-holds-barred ideological fighter who has demonstrated over time she’ll stop at nothing to get her enemies.”
The Republicans’ fear of Hillary is a testament to how successful she’s been in softening her sharp edges and moving to the center. As a senator, Clinton has been collegial and conciliatory, working respectfully even with politicians who tried to run her husband out of town. And polls now show that the more exposure people have to her, the more positive their view. She has made joint appearances with Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Bill Frist, and Lindsey Graham. Clinton has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq, has talked about the evils of illegal immigration, and has even lowered the volume on her normally high-decibel pro-choice advocacy, calling abortion a “tragic choice to many, many women.”