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July 31, 2015

Michael Gerson’s latest Washington Post column provides a wonderful example of the ongoing effort by conservatives in the media to goad Hillary Clinton into a defensive posture in hopes of weakening her candidacy and distracting Americans from the ongoing destruction of the GOPs national brand, otherwise known as the Republican presidential nomination contest.

Gerson writes, “The most surprising revelation in recent presidential polling is not that Donald Trump has low favorability in key states — a welcome indicator of national sanity — but rather that Hillary Clinton’s numbers are almost as bad. Put another way: A vacuous, gaffe-prone, xenophobic, conspiracy-minded reality television star whose nomination, by most accounts, would destroy the GOP has about the same approval ratings in Colorado and Iowa as the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination…A recognition begins to dawn: Democrats may be coronating a wounded queen.”

For Republicans, who are presently enduring a national 24/7 media smack-down thanks to the train wreck that is the GOPs nomination contest, the need to shine negative media attention on Clinton is painfully obvious. One wonders how Gerson might characterize the winner of the GOP contest.“Survivor” perhaps? In reality, there simply isn’t anything surprising about declining favorables in Hillary Clinton’s polling numbers and the idea that Donald Trump’s equally bad favorability numbers in swing states should worry Clinton, or Democrats in general, is just silly (sorry for the technical polisci jargon here).

With her party’s nomination essentially sown up, Clinton has been able to concentrate on bolstering her organization and honing her general election message. Her critics are desperate to discredit her candidacy because they understand that doing so will be increasingly difficult as the real political context of the 2016 race (party control of the federal government) comes into focus for voters.Despite efforts to inflate the viability of her Democratic challengers and to manufacture misbehavior allegations against her, Clinton has basically begun her general election campaign a full year ahead of her eventual Republican opponent.

So, why should Clinton take her eye off of the ball now? Are her declining personal favorability numbers “wounds” requiring immediate attention? If allowed to go unaddressed in the short run, will these numbers contribute to her candidacy being “defined” by her critics? Gerson scoffs at Clinton’s cavalier response to her declining “trust” numbers, but what would he have her do about them?

Hillary Clinton is a VERY well known quantity and her critics have nothing new to add to their now decades-old litany of her character flaws and unsubstantiated misbehavior allegations. Gerson’s taunt isn’t going to tempt Clinton into anything that might distract public attention from the ongoing Republican disaster. GOP efforts to ensnare her in scandals involving her conduct as Secretary of State have so far been almost as counter-productive as the antics of the “sweet sixteen” at this point.So far, the New York Times appears to be the only casualty in the Republicans’ “War on Hillary.” Her free ride to the general election amounts to a free ride to the general election narrative and the general election issues that will most impact voters’ choices in November. Republican strategists understand this, which is why they are desperate to lure Clinton into engaging on the “character” issue.If she does so engage, it would help legitimate the candidate-centric narrative Republicans need in order to have any chance of winning back the White House next year.

Unfortunately for Republicans (and their opinion writers), so far there have been no revelations or polling numbers that require Clinton to play defense. I expect Clinton’s team will stay on offense, content to let Hillary be Lucy to the GOPs Charlie Brown-like attempts to kick the ball out of her hands.

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