Clinton 'victim' defense apparently backfires
BY GLENN THRUSH | firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON - After Hillary Rodham Clinton's floundering finale at last week's
debate in Philadelphia, her campaign counterattacked immediately, almost
instinctively, with a tactic that had proved effective in the White House and in two
New York Senate races.
They portrayed her as a victim.
In the week following the debate, Clinton and her proxies have suggested, at
various times, that she was the victim of sexism, a group ambush by her enemies
and journalistic bias. Then, on Tuesday, Bill Clinton declared her Democratic
foes had subjected her to a "Swift Boat"-style attack.
Was all of this an effective response or just a Clinton pity party?
More than a week into Clinton's worst campaign crisis, it appears the tactic has
backfired, with both opponents and supporters wondering why a front-runner who
touts herself as the most rugged politician in America would choose to cry foul.
"If the campaign could take back last week, with the 'don't pick on me' debate
reaction, they would," a top Clinton donor told Newsday. "Was their reaction to
the debate spot-on? No. Did they give out mixed signals? Absolutely."
The trouble began when Clinton waffled on a debate question about Gov. Eliot
Spitzer's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. But the story gained
new life when Clinton said it wasn't easy competing in "the all-boys' club" of
Dianne Bystrom of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State
University, says Clinton energizes female supporters but turns off male voters.
"You're not going to elect a victim to be president," she said.
Sensitive to such criticism. the Clinton camp toned down its post-debate kvetch-
a-thon, issuing a stunning disavowal of Bill Clinton's "Swift Boat" claim on
The former president was in damage control mode Wednesday, telling
supporters in Chicago he meant to say that attacks on his wife's driver's license
position made "all Democrats" vulnerable to GOP ads.
The political fallout from the episode remains unclear. Clinton sagged in a CNN
national poll and a New Hampshire poll taken by Rasmussen, but preserved
double-digit leads. She maintained a 21-point lead in Wednesday's NBC/Wall St.
Journal poll despite low marks for honesty, likability and sharing her positions on
A Clinton spokesman declined to be quoted but aides have denied that the
senator has overplayed the victim role to win votes.
Still, Clinton's approval ratings soared during her husband's impeachment crisis
and she's proved a master of political jujitsu in both of Senate contests,
capitalizing on Republican Rick Lazio's invasion of her personal space during a
debate in 2000. Six years later, her aides pounced on opponent John Spencer
when he joked she had undergone plastic surgery.
But that tactic has proved less effective when the attacks are policy-based, not
"You start off the campaign by saying you're the toughest one out there. And
then you whine about everything?" said Joe Trippi, a top aide to John Edwards.
"To come out and say 'I can't take it,' and 'I'm being whaled on' when people are
raising legitimate policy points? I don't know what they were thinking. It's done a
lot of damage."