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GOP’s Clinton-Lauding Strategy May Backfire

Matt Rourke / ASSOCIATED PRESS

It’s strange to think Republicans would be eager to applaud the political achievements and strengths of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

But in their efforts to ding President Barack Obama over the last few years, they’ve done just that. The idea: put the Clintons on a pedestal to show that the current administration doesn’t live up to their legacy.

With Hillary Clinton posed to make her own bid for the White House in 2016, all those recent compliments could come back to haunt Republicans … even as they pivot to revive their attacks from the 1990s.

She might have been easier for some of us who are critics of the president to work with. I have the sense that she's one of the more competent members of the current administration.

Take former Vice President Dick Cheney, who not too long ago praised the competency of the former secretary of state. "She might have been easier for some of us who are critics of the president to work with,” he told Fox News in 2011, adding, “I have the sense that she's one of the more competent members of the current administration.”

And the plaudits continued for both Clintons:

  • On bipartisanship: “Obama is not your daddy's Democrat,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in Sept. 2012. “He's not a mainstream Democrat like Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton worked with both sides of the aisle. Bill Clinton was able to get things done."
  • On business acumen: “President Clinton … he's been hanging around with a number of people in the private sector, people who actually put people to work, whether they're small business or big business or anywhere in between. That's how our nation thrives,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told CNN in 2012.
  • On deficit reduction: “Look, if we had a Clinton presidency, if we had Erskine Bowles chief of staff at the White House or president of the United States, I think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on “Meet the Press” in Jan. 2013. “That`s not the kind of presidency we`re dealing with right now.”
  • On foreign policy: “I think she did a fine job,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a 2013 New Republic interview about Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. “She’s a rock star. She has, maybe not glamour, but certainly the aura of someone widely regarded throughout the world.”
First Read Minute: Clinton Drama Resurfaces for Midterms 1:42

But as the next presidential election inches closer, some of these same Republicans who praised the Clintons have changed their tune:

  • Reince Preibus now pledges to hit hard in 2016: “I think everything's on the table. I mean, I don't see how someone just gets a pass on anything, especially in today's politics,” he told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I think we're going to have a truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and some things may be old and some things may be new.”
  • Dick Cheney now criticizes Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi attack: “No, she clearly wasn’t hands on, and now she doesn’t want to be hands on,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last October. “And she’s doing everything she can to avoid responsibility for what clearly fell into her bailiwick.”
  • And Scott Walker has pointed his finger at Hillary Clinton’s ties to Washington: "I think if we're going to take on Hillary Clinton in the next election, we need somebody who's as far removed from Washington,” he said last November. “Because Hillary Clinton wasn't just secretary of state, wasn't just a U.S. senator, wasn't just the first lady. She's been a product of Washington for decades.”

It marks a decided shift in strategy as Republicans home in on potential 2016 contenders and put Obama in the rearview.