Experience counts, but which way does it cut for Hillary Clinton?

The first political slogan I can recall was Richard Nixon’s insistence during his 1960 presidential campaign that “Experience Counts.” Nixon didn’t need to explain what his experience as vice president in the popular Eisenhower administration counted for. However, Eisenhower himself took some of the luster away from the slogan when, upon being asked for an example in which Nixon contributed a major idea that he adopted, Ike asked for a week to think of something.

Hillary Clinton would like to argue that her experience counts. But this Washington Post story by Anne Gearan suggests that Clinton’s experience may well count as a “liability.” It doesn’t take a week to figure out why:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state was supposed to be a central argument for her forthcoming run for president. Her globe-trotting record as the nation’s chief diplomat, her role championing women’s empowerment and gay rights, and her experience on tough national security issues were all supposed to confer credentials that none of her possible GOP opponents would possess.

But over the past two weeks, with back-to-back revelations that she was working with foreign countries that gave millions of dollars to her family’s charitable foundation and that she set up and exclusively used a private e-mail system, that argument has been put in peril.

Instead of a fresh chapter in which Clinton came into her own, her time as the country’s top diplomat now threatens to remind voters of what some people dislike about her — a tendency toward secrecy and defensiveness, along with the whiff of scandal that clouded the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton.

Instead of a “fresh chapter,” Clinton’s time as Secretary of State looks like a replay of the old-scandal ridden and secretive chapter that was Bill Clinton’s presidency — but minus the charm of her husband and minus the good feeling that, in terms of substance, his presidency engendered.

In this context, Republicans seem more than willing to concede that Clinton is the candidate of “experience.” According to Gearan:

The [secretive and defensive] side of Hillary Clinton plays directly into the main Republican argument against her, that she is a candidate of “yesterday” — as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida recently put it — who comes with decades of baggage the country no longer need carry.

It’s also worth noting that Clinton’s most recently reported misdeeds — accepting a foreign-government donation in 2010 without submitting it for an ethics review and setting up and exclusively using a private e-mail system — violated standards established by President Obama. You really have to wonder about a candidate whose conduct doesn’t meet the standards of ethics and transparency of the Obama administration.

Some conservatives have expressed concern that these scandals broke too soon. They fear that the stories will have blown over by the time the 2016 campaign enters its critical stage.

Perhaps this fear is well-founded. By mid-2016, the media won’t be talking about the Clinton Foundation or about Hillary’s private email. These stories will be deemed “old news.”

But I believe it’s the responsibility of the Republican presidential nominee and his allies to make sure the current scandals aren’t forgotten. A year and a half from now, they won’t be old hat to most voters — only news junkies are feasting on these stories now.

Thus, the scandals can be injected into the campaign via negative advertising at the time of the Republican candidates choosing — the same way that Mitt Romney’s old business dealings were injected into the 2012 campaign. The disparaging statements being made now by liberal organs like the Washington Post can be plastered onto campaign ads even if he Post is no longer making them. All it takes is a candidate who is willing to play hardball against the first female nominee for president.

To be sure, Hillary Clinton will need to cooperate by presenting a campaign persona consistent with the picture that her past scandals paint. The portrayal of Mitt Romney as a cold-hearted businessman wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if the Romney campaign had avoided errors like the “47 percent” statement.

But who among us would bet that Hillary’s campaign will succeed in overcoming her persona as a secretive control freak who sees herself as above the rules? Who, for that matter, would bet that there won’t be new revelations that reinforce this image?

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