Ahead of Thursday night’s big Republican primary debate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign sent a notice to her supporters.
“Here’s your to-do list to be prepared,” wrote Christina Reynolds, Clinton’s director of rapid response. “Stock up on soft projectiles to hurl at your television to give your jeering some attitude (marshmallows get the job done).”
Then the Democratic front-runner’s campaign zeroed in on just three Republican candidates: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida).
“Make sure your phone has a full charge,” Reynolds added, “so you can tweet about the dangerous policies that candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker are proposing.”
It’s noteworthy that Clinton’s list did not include the most dominating current force on the Republican side of the contest: Donald Trump.
The real-estate magnate is leading almost every single GOP primary poll, and his controversial rhetoric about illegal immigration and other issues would seemingly make him a natural Democratic target. But Clinton does not seem overly eager to attack Trump, who some polls show she would easily beat in the general election if the vote were held today. Matchups with Bush, Rubio, and Walker are much cloudier as Clinton’s numbers have slipped.
There is a notable exception, however: Clinton is more than willing to link the other Republicans to Trump’s candidacy. Her rapid-response campaign, “The Briefing,” did exactly that during the debate:
Clinton, arguably, has not targeted any of her potential Republican foes as much as Bush.
Last Tuesday, Clinton unleashed a direct attack on Bush via Twitter after the former governor stumbled while discussing the women’s health and family-planning organisation Planned Parenthood. Bush initially said he wasn’t “sure we need a half-billion dollars for women’s health issues.” He walked back that statement, clarifying he only was referring to the embattled nonprofit, not all women’s-health organisations.
But Clinton nevertheless seized on the error.
“You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” she informed Bush via Twitter.
The day before, Clinton’s campaign had released a video directly going after Bush, Walker, and — to a lesser extent — a third candidate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), on the abortion issue and women’s health in general.
“Republicans like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush are calling to defund Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive healthcare,” Clinton said in the video. “If this feels like a full-on assault on women’s health, that’s because it is.”
Clinton further bashed Bush last week while giving a speech in Florida before an audience of African-American leaders that Bush was also about to address. With a not-so-subtle reference to Bush’s PAC, “Right to Rise,” Clinton started declaring that Bush’s policy record would halt Americans from rising.
“I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a ‘right to rise’ and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care,” she said, according to Reuters.
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman recently reported that Clinton is singling out Bush because the former secretary of state’s campaign thinks he will probably be the Republican nominee.
“Clinton has not picked on Mr. Bush at random: Her aides, for the most part, believe he is likely to ultimately win the Republican nomination,” Haberman wrote. “And in a very crowded Republican field, in which Donald J. Trump is sopping up the news media’s attention, Mr. Bush has for the most part escaped the kind of sharp elbows that would normally have been thrown at such a high-profile candidate.”
Bush’s team says they’re more than happy with all of Clinton’s attention. Tim Miller, a Bush campaign spokesman, pointed Business Insider to a Thursday interview in which Clinton’s communications director, Jen Palmieri, said there are days “where I fear that Gov. Bush is going to be nominee, and then there are days where I’m concerned that he’s not going to be the nominee.”
“Hillary’s communications director admitted that she fears Gov. Bush’s strength as nominee yesterday so it isn’t hard to figure out why they are singling him out. We welcome the contrast,” Miller told Business Insider on Friday. (Palmieri would likely dispute how Miller framed her quote.)
To a lesser extent, of course, Clinton embraces all of the Republican candidates, especially whenever they make a remark that can be used to paint the entire field as out-of-touch. During the debate, her rapid-response team hit Rubio on abortion rights, Walker on the economy, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) on gay rights, all while calling attention to various GOP White House hopefuls’ previous praise for her record.
For his part, Trump declared that Clinton’s attacks against Bush are an attempt to avoid facing the real-estate mogul in the general election. Trump fiercely pushed back against The Times’ story on Twitter:
Do you notice that Hillary spews out Jeb’s name as often as possible in order to give him status? She knows Trump is her worst nightmare.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2015
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