The Conservative Playbook Against Hillary Clinton

A new book gives a sneak peek of how Republicans will try to define Clinton in 2016.

So many choices. (National Journal)

Hillary Clinton's book is out Tuesday, and the media will not stop talking about it despite its lack of revelatory information. In fact, the very lack of news contained in the book is being used as evidence that Hard Choices must be a campaign book — a symbolic token every presidential candidate must offer to constituents in paperback.

Another book about Hillary Clinton was also published this week, but this one comes from a super PAC making its case against another Clinton presidency. On Sunday, the conservative America Rising PAC released its own book on the former first lady, senator, and secretary of State, ironically titled Failed Choices.

The ebook is published by America Rising, an opposition research organization set up in 2013 by former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades and former Republican National Committee spokesmen Tim Miller and Joe Pounder dedicated to tracking and (in their words) "exposing" Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton. The book is 112 pages long — an allusion to the number of countries Clinton visited during her time as secretary of State — and serves as a playbook for how conservatives may attack Clinton on her foreign policy record, come 2016.

"At the end of Secretary Clinton's tenure, there was no region in the world where our alliances were stronger and our enemies weaker thanks to Secretary Clinton's diplomacy," the e-book's authors write. "In her book and on her presidential campaign, she will spin, exaggerate, and lie to try to turn these failures into accomplishments. But no amount of whitewashing or political spin can protect her from her record."

Below: a condensed set of rules for conservatives who want to criticize Clinton's foreign policy record, and a look at what we can expect to see over the next two years if she does run for president.

Rule #1: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi

The 2012 terrorist attack at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi has become the premier scandal Republicans are using to rail against the Obama administration. And for them, Clinton is at the center of its heart of darkness. This has become a Republican mantra over the past two years, and while people think Clinton bungled the situation in Benghazi, it hasn't really destroyed her reputation in the way conservatives thought it would. (Remember how Chuck Hagel's record on Israel was going to ruin his chances of becoming Defense Secretary?)

But unlike the popular claim among conservatives that Benghazi was a cover-up, America Rising PAC puts forth a more refined argument in its book: Clinton put the wheels in motion that eventually led to the embassy attack. "It was this unraveling of the government of Libya and the country's violent descent into jihadist control that serves as the backdrop for the events leading up to the tragic terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012," the authors write.

The book also cites former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's memoir as proof of Clinton's naiveté about the situation in Libya. Gates didn't mention Clinton specifically, but wrote, "The advocates of military action expected a short, easy fight. How many times in history had that naïve assumption been proven wrong?"

And if neither of those points work, there's always time to quote Clinton's infamous Benghazi testimony. When asked about the State Department originally attributing the attack to an anti-Muslim video, Clinton replied, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" What was meant as an exasperated response to the hearing has become Clinton's "47 percent" moment to conservatives.

Rule #2: "Name one thing "¦ "

When faced with a Hillary 2016 supporter, conservative commentators will inevitably demand them to "name one thing Hillary Clinton accomplished as first lady/senator/secretary of State!" (This demand shall henceforth be known as the Krauthammer.) It's a question that's also been asked by Bill Kristol, Hugh Hewitt, Andrew Sullivan, and the conservative Media Research Center.

A few examples from the book:

  • At a recent forum hosted by The New York Times, Thomas Friedman asked Clinton what accomplishment she was most proud of as secretary of State: "In a long-winded response that ran over two minutes, Clinton began by saying it was her job only to pass the baton, then ticked off a series of excuses but failed to mention a single concrete accomplishment" (What Clinton actually said was she was representing the U.S. around the world while Obama was dealing with the recession at home, but point taken.)
  • "State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki — a top aide on Obama's reelection campaign — was one of the first to be caught in the collateral damage of 'what did Clinton achieve?' question. Pressed repeatedly to name a single accomplishment from Secretary Clinton's 2010 Quadrennial Strategy Review "¦ Psaki came up empty."
  • "Politico editor Susan Glasser described how not even an 'ardent defender' of Clinton's could name a single accomplishment."
  • Quoting Sullivan: "I was having dinner with a real Clinton fan the other night, and I actually stumped him (and he's not easily stumped). What have been Hillary Clinton's major, signature accomplishments in her long career in public life?"

It's a valid question, but it's also overly simplistic. Asking for "one thing" that exemplifies the success of U.S. international diplomacy is sort of like asking for the one reason the U.S. lost the Vietnam War. And Clinton herself has a rebuttal; The Washington Post has a good roundup of the achievements she lists in her book.

Rule #3: She's too weak!

Liberals often deride Clinton for her hawkishness, but conservatives see her as a pushover. She can't win — push too hard and she's an unrelenting harpy; try to take a nuanced approach and she wants America to be the world's doormat.

Failed Choices first links Russia's tense relations with the U.S. to the reason for the continued massacres in Syria. "The Reset hurt America's standing in the world because it backfired so badly," the authors write. "It failed to prevent innocent Syrians from being murdered by Russian weapons. It failed to protect journalists, gays, and dissidents from being jailed in Russia."

The authors argue that Clinton "heaped praise" on Russia by telling an interviewer, "We view Russia as a great power." They gloss over the fact that she went on to compare Putin to Hitler. (Putin more recently retorted, "It's better not to argue with women.")

Rule #4: "She's too aggressive (against Israel)!"

The authors of Failed Choices admit that Clinton was a "staunchly pro-Israel senator," but they argue she "became a leading critic of Israel within the administration."

Their evidence for this loss of support for Israel? Clinton backtracked on her pledge for an "undivided Jerusalem," opposed showing credible force to invade Iran, and "only" visited Israel five times as secretary of State. The authors point out that, by comparison, Condoleezza Rice made 25 trips to Israel when she was secretary of State. What they don't point out is that Rice visited 29 fewer countries than Clinton, and brokered a deal with Israel in 2005 to withdraw from Palestinian territories.

Failed Choices accuses Clinton of opposing new Israeli settlements; Clinton, meanwhile, says she "expressed quiet reservations" about Obama's proposal to stop Israelis from building new settlements. The most petty claim in Failed Choices is that unnamed Israeli officials were "unhappy about being left out" of a conference hosted in Turkey on counterterrorism.

None of these accusations exactly make Clinton a Friend of Hamas, but in 2016, Republicans and Democrats will seek succor from pro-Israel voters — and donors. It's important to keep up appearances.

Rule #5: Clinton Inc.

Painting Bill and Hillary Clinton as a well-heeled political dynasty is nothing new. But in Failed Choices, the authors go beyond that depiction, calling Hillary Clinton a "salesperson for select U.S. business interests" by using "economic statecraft."

The authors highlight a few shady deals, implying pay-to-play. Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide (and Anthony Weiner's long-suffering spouse), did not disclose that she worked for the consulting firm Teneo while she was still working for Clinton. Though no real foul play came to light, conservatives would love for Teneo to become for Clinton what Solyndra was to Barack Obama, or GreenTech Automotive was to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (a close friend of the Clintons). Still, it's good to remember that both Obama and McAuliffe won their respective elections.

The book also notes that Boeing donated $2 million to a Shanghai Expo, possibly violating the State Department's code of ethics. The defense company also donated $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2010.

Boeing isn't the only big-name contractor the book goes after; another one is a name you may not have heard in awhile: Blackwater. Despite Clinton's pledge to ban Blackwater from government contracts when she ran for president in 2008, the State Department continued to employ the company (after it changed its name to Academi). It's an interesting tactic: If anything, Republicans should be trying to tie Clinton to George W. Bush — not Obama — to irk progressive voters. Groups like America Rising don't exactly need to make the case to fellow conservatives to hate Clinton.

Failed Choices is a good counterpoint to Hard Choices, in that they spin in opposite directions. If you were to read them both, you'd probably get a nearly complete picture of Clinton's recent political struggles. But then again, why would you want to do that to yourself?

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