What's with Karl Rove and Hillary Clinton? Bush's brain and the former first lady have been sounding like chattering teenaged candidates in a hot race for student council.
It started when President Bush's political guru was quoted in journalist Bill Sammon's new book, "Strategery," released Monday (Feb. 27) by the notoriously anti-Clinton Regnery Press, as predicting Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic senator from New York, will win the Democratic nomination.
"Anybody who thinks that she's not going to be the candidate is kidding themselves," says Rove. But, hey, no way she's actually going to win, he hastily adds.
Why? Because, he says, she's too "liberal" and has this "brittleness" thing about her.
Well, the sun did not set before Hillary was all over WROW-AM radio in Albany, N.Y., heaving a sigh about how Karl "spends a lot of time obsessing about me." Oh? "Why are they spending so much time talking about me?" Ah!
"Karl Rove is a brilliant strategist." HmmmÖ
"What they're hoping is that all of their missteps, which are now numbering in the hundreds, are going to somehow be overlooked because people, instead of focusing on the '06 election, will jump ahead and think about the next one."
As my teen son's friends might say, Oh, snap!
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The day did not end before Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt dished back on behalf of Rove, who was oddly unavailable for quotes: "Sen. Clinton would be better served if she spent less time flattering herself with perceived obsession and more time focusing on her job."
Ah, to paraphrase a children's rhyme, Karl and Hillary sittin' in a tree/F-E-U-D-I-N-G.
Actually, New York politicos have been buzzing for months about Rove's efforts to drum up a decent Republican challenger for Mrs. Clinton's Senate seat. Former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, Mrs. Clinton's only declared Republican Senate opponent, has said he spoke months ago with Rove's associates in the White House.
Of course, Rove is obsessing over Mrs. Clinton. So is the rest of Washington. She's the quintessential political lightning rod, simultaneously able to raise large amounts of money for her friends and her adversaries. In order to raise money and rally one's troops, one must have a formidable, threatening enemy to hate, fear and demonize. Unfortunately for the Right, Republicans have a demon shortage. Washington Democrats don't look all that formidable these days. Control of all three branches of government has left Republicans with no one to blame for any of the current mess in Washington but themselves.
Except, ah, there's still Hillary.
So, Republicans appear to be road-testing a new line of attacks. Rove's "brittleness" jab echoes Republican chairman Ken Mehlman's critique that "Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger" in early February and First Lady Laura Bush's suggestion later that Mrs. Clinton lacks "empathy." All could be early signs of what Democratic media consultant David Axelrod calls "long-term character assassination," the needling tactics that eventually painted John Kerry as a flip-flopper and Al Gore as a serial exaggerator.
But, that oddly looks like a no-lose deal for Mrs. Clinton. So far, her political jiu-jitsu has turned right-wing's attacks into the sincerest confirmation of her own effectiveness. Having been called everything but a child of God by right-wing attack ads, attack books, radio chatter and Internet sites, she's inoculated. New smears sound like old news.
Instead, she seems to have a good point when she accuses Team Bush of trying to draw attention to the '08 race and away from the administration's current "missteps." They may not be "numbering in the hundreds," as she says, but who's counting?
For now, the Rove-Clinton exchange reveals an odd marriage of convenience that helps Rove rally Republicans in this election year and helps Clinton rally Democrats.
She needs the help. Ironically, her anxious base may pose a bigger problem for her than her right-wing opponents. Angry liberals think she's trying too hard to be moderate. Nervous moderates think she's too vulnerable to GOP attacks.
But, compared to her most likely Democratic opponents, she stands out like the tallest jockey at the racetrack — hard to ignore, even by those who say she can't win.