“I think she’s nailed it beautifully,” says Dick Morris, Post columnist, Fox News analyst, and the hardest-working man in the Clinton-bashing business (the latest of his one-a-year anti-Clinton books is called Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race). “Her strategy at the moment is just what it should be: move to the middle and be tough on terror.”
Many on the right are not buying it. “What was her epiphany? What eye-opening experience did she have?” Viguerie asks. “It’s all so calculating, so Machiavellian.”
Clinton’s rebranding is working so well that she has been getting criticized by the left for her support of the war and other centrist positions. Any rocks thrown at her by the left, however, only serve to bolster her sought-after credentials as a moderate. Most Republicans believe, however, that when it counts, her claim on the left wing of the Democratic Party is unimpeachable.
The freedom to take your base of support for granted is so important because of the way the numbers add up in a national race. Current conventional wisdom is that American voters are more or less evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans: 43 to 45 percent are firmly committed, no matter who’s running. The real battle is for the undecided 10 to 15 percent in the middle.
It’s this simple math that has begun to make the right crazy. “She doesn’t have to fool conservatives with this new, more reasonable posture,” says Keene. “She only has to convince 7 percent of those undecided voters that she’s sincere.”
Estrich, for one, thinks the right should be concerned. “I was followed around on my book tour by people who’d hold up signs and scream at me, ‘What about Juanita Broaddrick?’ And all the younger people would look at me and say, ‘Who’s that?’ That’s part of the problem with dredging up all that old Clinton stuff. More and more people have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Hillary’s candidacy would be a real test of whether people are ready to vote for a woman. “Opinion data show that Americans want to believe they’re ready,” says Ruth Mandel, head of the Eagleton Institute. “Most people, when asked, tell pollsters they would vote for a woman. But when asked if they think their neighbor would, the number drops dramatically. The first answer is the socially acceptable one.”
But finally, there is the matter of Hillary herself. It’s true that the scandals of the nineties no longer have the power to hurt her. It’s people’s perception of her as a calculating, triangulating political android—supporting the war, speaking against abortion, sidling up to Gingrich and Murdoch, smiling that smile. We’ve known her a long time—but who is she now? That we still don’t know makes everybody nuts.