Hitler remark: Will it hurt Hillary Clinton?

Hitler remark on Putin stirred up critics of Clinton's own role as secretary of State in the 'reset' of relations with Russia. Clinton said her comment referred to a 'tactic' used by both men.

Nick Ut/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton defended her Hitler remark in a speech to students at the University of California Los Angeles campus on Wednesday. The remark simply noted that Hitler used defense of ethnic Germans as an excuse for territorial ambitions and Putin had adopted the same tactic, she said.

Will the Hitler remark made by Hillary Rodham Clinton rebound against her? That’s what some Republicans are saying in the wake of Clinton’s comparing Vladimir Putin the architect of the Third Reich.

It isn’t that the GOP thinks the analogy overdrawn or approves of Putin’s occupation of the Crimea in any way, shape, or form. It’s that the 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner was at the center of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” US-Russia relations when she was secretary of State.

If Putin’s Hitler, why try to make friends?

“Was Mitt Romney right then in labeling Russia our greatest geopolitical foe?” asks right-leaning (and Romney fan) Jennifer Ruin in her Washington Post “Right Turn” blog.

In case you missed it, this contretemps began on Tuesday when former Secretary Clinton, addressing a private fundraiser in California, said that Putin’s actions in regards to Ukraine were similar to those undertaken in Europe by Adolf Hitler prior to the outbreak of World War II. Hitler made a lot of noise about protecting enclaves of ethnic Germans in such places as the Sudetenland, and used that as an excuse to seize territory adjacent to Germany itself. Putin’s excused his move into the Crimea by saying he needs to protect ethnic Russians who are under attack by “ultra-nationalist mobs."

Putin is a leader “who believes his mission is to restore Russian greatness," said Clinton, according to an account of the talk in the Long Beach Press Telegram.

Republicans looking to build a case that Clinton’s foreign policy leadership was not great have seized on this as an unfortunate comparison. If Putin is Hilter, who is Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister whose appeasement of the German leader did nothing to stop the onset of war? Would it be ... Obama? Or Clinton herself?

“This ... invites obvious attacks on the Secretary of State, who long ago bragged of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia,” writes Mary Katharine Ham on the conservative Hot Air site.

Not so fast, replied Clinton on Wednesday, in essence. In remarks at UCLA, she said that she was simply stating a fact of history, not drawing a larger comparison between Russia’s leader and the most infamous tyrant of the age.

After all, any newspaper reader in the 1930s would have known Hitler did indeed use ethnic Germans as an excuse for his territorial ambitions. In 2014, Putin’s talking the same way.

“I just want everybody to have a little historical perspective. I’m not making comparisons, but I am recommending that we can perhaps learn from this tactic that has been used before,” said Clinton.

If nothing else this flaplet shows how seriously Republicans are taking the threat of Clinton’s candidacy. In parsing her every word, they’re treating her almost as if she has won her party’s nomination. Either that or they are doing their best to dissuade her from running at all.

Also, she’s not the only one using “Hitler” in the same sentence with “Putin." Among those who have agreed with her sentiments? The GOP’s 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and 2016 Republican hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who this week agreed there are “similarities” between Hitler’s and Putin’s geopolitical actions.

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