WASHINGTON — The Monica Lewinsky scandal has returned to U.S.
politics, after a fashion.
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky raised it late last month on NBC’s
“Meet the Press,” saying President Bill Clinton engaged in “predatory
behavior” in his affair with the young intern in 1995 and 1996. Since
then the Clinton/Lewinsky subject has arisen on many political chat
shows as hosts ask guests to discuss its possible significance to a
Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy.
David Gregory asked Mitt Romney the Lewinsky question on “Meet the
Press” on Sunday, for instance. The 2012 GOP nominee started off by
saying that Hillary Clinton has her own record on which to run and
that the Monica Lewinsky affair is not hers to explain. Then he added
that Bill Clinton had “embarrassed the country” with his actions.
Then on Monday, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski laced into Republicans who
bring up Lewinsky in the context of 2016. They are “misogynist, sexist
hypocrites,” said the co-host of “Morning Joe.”
“Rand Paul, please keep going after it, I am telling you right now it
will backfire so badly,” added Ms. Brzezinski.
Well, there’s an obvious reason Rand Paul and other 2016 GOP hopefuls
may keep raising the Lewinsky issue, even if he is concerned that
Brzezinski may be right, and the general electorate does not want to
revisit the mid-90s.
The reason is this: you have to win a nomination before you can face
off against the other major party’s candidate. And Republican primary
voters may be fed up after two White House losses and eager for a
standard-bearer who will take the fight to Democrats. In that context
bashing Bill Clinton as a “predator” may make electoral sense.
For a sense of the frustration on the right look at last week’s
National Review editorial on this subject. The conservative magazine
held that Senator Paul is right to raise Hillary Clinton’s role in the
scandals of the Bill Clinton presidency as a means to counter
Democratic charges that the GOP has a “war on women.”
“The Clintons are our national grotesques,” wrote National Review editors.
Hillary Clinton’s national polls are high in part because she is very,
very popular with Democrats. That masks how low she rates with
Republicans. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey, 88 percent
of Democratic respondents rated the former secretary of State
favorably, for example. But only 31 percent of Republicans gave her a
favorable ranking. Sixty-six percent of GOP voters said they had an
unfavorable view of Mrs. Clinton.
Yes, Rand Paul and others might say, that’s all well and good — but
sometimes you have to take risks just to make it to the playoffs.