Every presidential cycle Republicans almost invariably come up with an attack line on the Democratic nominee that not-so-subtly brings back the spirit of the famous Willie Horton ad of 1988: issues and images that conjure up racial fears and prejudices. For Mitt Romney in 2012, it was a heavy-handed and highly mendacious attack on Barack Obama for “gutting” welfare reform.
I have no reason to assume former Romney ‘12 communications director Eric Fehrnstrom had anything in particular to do with those “welfare” ads and talking points. Fehrnstrom’s mainly remembered for his foot-in-the-mouth moment when he blithely suggested his boss — plagued throughout the cycle by reminders of his tendency to flip-flop — could erase his primary-season promises and commitments as a child might do with an Etch A Sketch.
In any event, as Republicans from coast to coast searched for ways to keep the Clinton “email scandal” alive and still getting ink after the FBI recommended no criminal charges, it was Fehrnstrom who immediately found the Willie Horton angle in the lede to an op-ed in the Boston Globe:
Hillary Clinton is the new O.J. Simpson. She may have gotten off, but everyone knows what she did was wrong.
In the body of the op-ed, Fehrnstrom does nothing to justify this cheapest of shots, taken no doubt to exploit the renewed national discussion of the Simpson trial spurred by a recent docudrama and then a documentary on the trial and its heavily freighted background. So he doesn’t bother to explain why an alleged misuse of email technology compares to a double murder, or why federal investigators deciding that the evidence did not even justify criminal charges is anything like an apparent act of jury nullification (complicated by the racism of a key witness). So the nasty little analogy just sits there emitting poison and encouraging Hillary-haters to think of going after her as an act of white racial revenge for O.J.’s escape from justice.
The troubling thing is that you can easily imagine the “Hillary is the new O.J.” meme slithering into an attack ad this fall. It’s not like Republicans have all that many black votes to lose, right? Politics ain’t beanbag, right? And strictly speaking, nobody’s accusing Clinton of killing anybody (other than maybe at Benghazi!), right?
We see these sort of rationalizations every few years. I hope I’m wrong that we’ve already seen the next one.