The Price of Puffing the Clintons

I’ve been alternately amused and infuriated by the GOP tendency during the Obama administration and particularly the current campaign to set up Bill Clinton’s presidency as the fine “centrist” model against which the godless socialist from Chicago or Kenya or wherever is rebelling. It’s amusing to the extent that the usage depends on mass amnesia about the bellowing rage most conservatives directed at Bill and especially Hillary when they were actually in the White House. But in some cases, as where the Romney campaign used President Clinton’s image in a mendacious campaign ad suggesting that Obama has unraveled Clinton’s handiwork on welfare reform, it’s infuriating, and has actually gotten the Big Dog off the above-it-all-former-presidential sidelines to cry foul.

As Steve Kornacki points out at Salon today, the real blowback from the Right’s convenient Clinton-puffing of late has yet to be experienced:

Just consider the effect that GOP’s decision to treat the Clintons as friends has had on their political standing. A recent poll gave Bill his highest personal popularity since his presidential honeymoon in early 1993. It’s the same story for Hillary who, but for a brief period during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has never enjoyed favorable scores like she’s had for the last three years. Look closely at Hillary’s popularity trendlines, in fact, and you can see that the favorable and unfavorable lines begin their dramatic divergence in the middle of ’08 – almost exactly when the right’s revisionism began.

This could come back to bite Republicans in a few weeks, when Bill delivers a primetime speech at the Democratic convention. Republicans have helped to make him one of the country’s most well-liked public figures, which will give his endorsement of Obama and any accompanying criticisms of Romney more weight.

Steve goes on to suggest that the problem could become a whole lot larger down the road if Hillary Clinton considers a 2016 presidential run (which he seems to consider more likely than I do), but I think the potential backfire effect in the current cycle should have been enough to keep Clinton images out of Romney ads. They’re really playing with fire here, and deserved to get burned.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.