Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Hillary talks policy; GOP talks scandal: Repeat, ad infinitum

In Las Vegas Tuesday, Hillary Clinton moved to cement her standing among Latino-American voters by pledging to fight for "a path to full and equal citizenship." And if Congress refuses to act, "as president, I would do everything possible under the law to go even further" than President Obama has.

"This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side,” she told a group of students whose parents face deportation. “Make no mistakes. Today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one.”

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to talk alleged scandal -- Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, emails, etc.

It's a matter of faith among Republicans that their intense, visceral dislike for Hillary Clinton is shared or can at least be spread among the American people as a whole. They're certain that if they just try hard enough, yell loud enough, stomp their feet vigorously enough, the rest of the world can be made to see her as the wicked villainess that they know her to be. That's why they're dragging her back to Capitol Hill this month to testify yet again on the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi, which they seem intent on turning into the most investigated and re-investigated event since the Kennedy assassination.

History, however, suggests that their approach may not work. It may be emotionally rewarding; it may succeed in firing up the GOP base. But as a strategy for winning elections, it doesn't have a strong track record.

Republicans took the scandal-based approach with Bill Clinton, who won in 1992 amid allegations of womanizing and then easily won re-election in 1996. In December 1998, when House Republicans vented their Clinton hatred with votes to impeach him, Clinton enjoyed a 73 percent job approval rating among the American people as a whole.  When he left office in 2001, he exited with a higher Gallup rating than had Ronald Reagan.

Undaunted, the GOP applied the same strategy against Barack Obama, again expecting that the intensity of their hatred would somehow spill out into the larger electorate. Instead, Obama has become the first person to get more than 51 percent of the vote in two consecutive presidential elections since Ike Eisenhower. Today, Obama's Gallup standing equals that of Reagan at this point in his presidency and is on the rise.

But with Hillary, we're told, it will be different. This time, Republicans are claiming that they will be able to redefine the former secretary of state in much the same way as the Democrats succeeded in redefining Mitt Romney in 2012.

They'll certainly have the financial resources to make that pitch heard, but again, it seems unlikely. While Romney's image was still fairly malleable, Hillary has been on the political scene for close to a quarter century now. Her public image is well established, both pro and con, as is the Republicans' animus against her. And by this point, I think it has become background noise for many voters. They've witnessed a long string of alleged Clinton scandals; they've repeatedly witnessed those scandals come to little or nothing.

The boy has cried "Wolf!" so many times that voters are going to have to see an actual, living, breathing, 100 percent-authenticated, DNA-verified Canis lupus . And even then they may not believe it.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.