- - Monday, May 11, 2015


Hillary Clinton is lucky to be beleaguered by controversy. Not in a literal sense, but it terms of timing. Getting bad news out of the way early is a huge advantage in an era when memories are so short.

Mrs. Clinton’s email missteps and her family foundation’s dalliance with foreign governments will be so far in the rearview mirror by election time that the Clintons and their allies will dismiss them as old news. Plenty of voters will probably agree.

We live in an amnesiac time. Yesterday’s big story — even if it was front-page news and the focus of news channel coverage — will quickly be forgotten.

Now if the drumbeat of criticism manages to persist, Mrs. Clinton’s prospects will be hurt. Fresh fodder for the news cycle — even if its genesis is an old story — can be quite damaging, especially if it pops up in an election year. The Benghazi tragedy might become the albatross that Mrs. Clinton’s detractors want it to be if new and substantial allegations eventually surface.

But generally, the longer a drumbeat of negative publicity persists, the more inured the public becomes. In this hyper-partisan era, opponents seize on the smallest infraction and amplify it to the point that after a while only the volume is noteworthy, not the critique.

It’s the modern-day equivalent to the old cliche: The cover-up is worse than the crime. In this case, overreaching a complaint is worse than the complaint itself.

The Clinton camp should pray that Republicans dump their entire cache of opposition research into the public domain. The short-term would be ugly. The long-term would be a relative breeze.

Jeb Bush has to worry that the investigative report about his governorship by the same team that produced “Clinton Cash” won’t be coming out until the start of the presidential primary season. Voters won’t have time to forget whatever revelations the team comes up with. His candidacy could be sunk just as the final memories of the latest Clinton scandals fade.

Timing is everything in politics. Sen. Rand Paul’s version of libertarianism and isolationism was riding high until Russia invaded Ukraine and the Islamic State proved to be an existential threat. Republicans who otherwise buy his leave-me-alone ideology now have second thoughts as the world turns violent and threatening.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could have been a contender. But former Gov. Bush stole a march on him by announcing his exploratory candidacy earlier than expected and robbed Mr. Christie of his chance to raise big money. What’s more, the indictment of Mr. Christie’s top aides for the George Washington Bridge lane closures not only reminded voters of the controversy but also failed to satisfy them that Mr. Christie was totally blameless.

Sen. Marco Rubio also benefited because of what initially looked like bad luck. He announced his run for the White House the day after Mrs. Clinton announced hers. Pundits said that Mr. Rubio’s announcement would be overshadowed by the presumptive Democratic nominee. Instead, his youthful energy and fresh ideas distinguished him from the return of yet another Clinton to the national scene. He wisely cast himself — and at the perfect moment — as the future of politics rather than the past and earned a bump in the polls.

At the same time, Mrs. Clinton should relish the rough treatment she’s getting these days. The nearly 20 would-be Republican nominees spend as much time beating her up as they do touting themselves and their policies. At some point — probably soon — voters will start tuning out the invective and start to hunt for other, fresher messages. The Clinton campaign will have an open invitation to present its candidate anew.

The best advice for Republicans, therefore, is this: Hold your fire. Political reporters are hungry for news, but voters aren’t yet. Silence now and pointed, fact-based criticism later will pay off better than impetuous and continuous criticism this far removed from November 2016.

Yes, Mrs. Clinton has been battered and bruised. But those political injuries have plenty of time to heal and, in fact, disappear without a scar. Republicans would be well served to wait until voters won’t be able to forget what’s wrong with her and her family foundation no matter how short their memories.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

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