Anti-Hillary dirty tricks war hots up
Republicans use the internet, books and a film to try to derail Clinton's White House bid
Paul Harris in New York
Sunday June 17, 2007
Top of the list of projects is a planned movie, being filmed by veteran Republican operator David Bossie. Bossie is raising money for the film through his conservative group Citizens United, which is appealing for video footage, stories about Clinton and money. It plans a release by the end of the year, just as the first primary elections are held in New Hampshire. Bossie is being helped in the project by Dick Morris, a former top Clinton aide who has become a leading Clinton critic.
The film also has the backing of other veteran Republican dirty-tricks campaigners. The chairman of Citizens United is Floyd Brown, a Republican media consultant who worked on the Willie Horton TV ad in 1988 that helped destroy the campaign of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
Citizens United and other Republican groups are set to model their anti-Clinton operation on the notorious Swift Boat campaign that derailed John Kerry's 2004 bid for the White House. That aggressive smear campaign focused on Kerry's Vietnam war record and was seen as critical in President George W Bush's election victory. 'The Swift Boat campaign is going to be a direct model. They have openly come out and said that,' said Terry Krepel, editor of Conwebwatch, a website that monitors the output of conservative news media.
There is already a swath of other anti-Hillary websites popping up with support from Republican figures. They include sites such as StopHerNow, StopHillaryPAC and HillCAP. The last is dedicated to showing that Clinton was involved in fraudulent fundraising in her 2000 Senate campaign. It supports a bid to have her prosecuted.
A slew of conservative books on Clinton are also planned for release or have already hit the stores. These include The Extreme Makeover of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Bay Buchanan, sister of former Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, and Whitewash by Brent Bozell, a veteran conservative who will try to show that Clinton is a pawn of the liberal media. Another book, God and Hillary Clinton, will look at her religious beliefs and her pro-choice position on abortion.
Right-wing news organisations are pumping out anti-Clinton stories. Last week, World Net Daily published a story claiming Bill Clinton had reneged on a secret deal with his wife to take turns at being governor of Arkansas. The story was solely sourced to an anonymous 'Clinton aide'.
Hillary Clinton is starting to be targeted by the mainstream campaigns of top-tier Republican candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The Republican approach has been to maintain a distance between the dirty tricks-style operators and their senior figures. 'It is all based on plausible deniability, so that mainstream Republicans can dissociate with anti-Clinton activists,' said Shawn Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California.
However, there is some clear overlap. For example, Texan businessman Bob Perry has joined Republican Mitt Romney's campaign as a fundraiser. In 2004, Perry gave more than $4m to the Swift Boat campaign.
But one of the main reasons why the Republican whispering campaign against Clinton is starting so early is simply how well Clinton is doing. After surviving the shock entry of Illinois Senator Barack Obama into the race, Clinton has maintained a steady and large lead among the Democrats. She has continued to rack up high-profile endorsements, such as last week's backing from Steven Spielberg, and her fundraising is steaming powerfully ahead. 'She is looking tough to beat. She is well funded and well organised,' Bowler said. With the Republican party in disarray and coping with the legacy of the Iraq war, there is a real feeling that Clinton could win the White House.
Her campaign is prepared for a conservative attack, no matter how dirty. On the campaign trail, one of her slogans is: 'I know how Washington Republicans think, how they operate and how to beat them.' Her staff have vowed not to repeat Kerry's 2004 mistake with the Swift Boat campaign when he delayed responding to their accusations that he did not tell the truth about his war record.
'Liberals have learnt a lot from the Swift Boat experience. You can't sit by and let it fester,' said Krepel.