Hillary Clinton is back, as Republicans try to make people forget its failure to do much this year by bashing the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
The GOP is returning to a time-tested strategy for rallying its base. It’s a tactic crucial to the party’s hopes for retaining control of the House and Senate next year, because so far, Republicans can’t promote their effectiveness.
Despite control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, the party has been unable to repeal and replace Obamacare. Next month, it’s likely to struggle to revamp the tax code or spending significantly. And Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
But now, Republicans can eagerly remind voters, they’re at least making sure Clinton doesn’t get away with anything.
Clinton-bashing is a strategy that helped the GOP win control of Congress in 1994, President Bill Clinton’s second year, as well as the White House in 2000, after Clinton’s impeachment.
Last year, President Donald Trump would rail about “crooked Hillary” during the campaign. Now he’s tweeting about "Hillary Clinton crimes."
Congressional Republicans are happily joining in. The former secretary of state is now the subject of three different Republican initiatives. House Judiciary Committee Republicans want a special counsel to probe her campaign. They want documents related to the campaign. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is insisting on more information about any Ukraine involvement in the Democrats' 2016 effort.
Republicans argue they're on solid ground, seeking an investigation that's sorely needed and highly popular with their base.
Sal Russo, a veteran Sacramento-based Republican strategist, said his party should be expected to try to politically counter the impact of Mueller’s investigation.
"A lot of Trump supporters feel the Russia investigation is bogus and are asking why, if they’re going to investigate something, they aren’t going after something that has more to it," he said.
Russo said Republicans are more troubled by the allegations that Ukraine helped Clinton than by reports Russia helped Trump.
GOP consultant Keith Appell said it’s a mistake to look at the timing of the new Clinton probes and see them as a diversion to help Republicans forget the health care collapse.
He suggested looking a few months back, to former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Talking about a time when President Barack Obama was still in office, Comey said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, while discussing the investigation into Clinton’s private email server while in office, "directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter."
Democrats were highly critical of Republicans’ return to Clinton-bashing.
"The Republican effort to get us all to ‘look at the shiny thing over there’ isn’t helping the American people much these days," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "There is a lot of work that needs to be done. I have no idea why they’re talking about last year’s election."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana., wondered how long it would be before Republicans again start talking about Benghazi. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in the 2012 attack at the American consulate in Libya’s second largest city.
Clinton was the subject of 10 Congressional investigations relating to the incident. None produced the evidence of wrongdoing that many Republicans had insisted would be found.
But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said justice should always be a priority, regardless of who’s involved.
"I don’t know if there was any wrongdoing she was involved in," he said. "But there was a lot of talk last year, and it is back this year. If there was wrongdoing, it should be investigated."