Monica Lewinsky: Why GOP can't stop talking about Clinton scandal

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton: The scandal is still on the lips of Republican hopefuls, despite warnings the tactic could backfire. The reason: you have to win the nomination first.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky speaks in Washington, Nov. 6, 2013. Paul said Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014 on NBC’s 'Meet the Press' that Democrats should remember President Clinton’s sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky before turning their criticism to Republicans’ attitudes toward women.

The Monica Lewinsky scandal has returned to US 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.

Again, it’s quite possible that waving the flag of past scandals could hurt a Republican nominee in a general election. GOP consultant Karl Rove noted as much on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that back in 2000 George W. Bush put a positive spin on the same subject.

“Instead of being against something, he said I will restore dignity and honor to the White House, describing what he was for,” Mr. Rove said.

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.

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