The Republicans are already building a case against Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate even though she has yet to announce whether she is running in 2016 and the first nominating caucuses and primaries are more than two years away.
GOP leaders are aware of Clinton's strong vote-getting potential and are very sensitive to the massive news coverage that her recent speeches have attracted. So they are trying to define her early and negatively as they remind voters and the media why Clinton was a flawed presidential candidate in 2008, when she lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, and why she has caused so much controversy in the past.
The Republican National Committee has issued a four-page summary of anti-Clinton arguments, including excerpts from critical stories in the news media. They are contained in an email headlined, "Clinton's 2016 Pitfalls: Skepticism of Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential Bid Builds While Clinton Controversies Begin to Swirl."
A spokeswoman for the RNC said, "Politico writes about Ciinton baggage that continues to haunt Hillary, from the Clinton Foundation to staffers in the news, and when you turn on your TV, Democratic strategists and political analysts are talking about their skepticism regarding her campaign strategy."
Among the examples cited by the RNC:
--An NBC News report that said, "Hillary Clinton's lofty status as the apparent 2016 Democratic nominee-in-waiting has some allies concerned that the hype might be too much, too soon. This seeming inevitability makes her more sensitive to attacks and risks amplifying any stumble, no matter how minor. And voters may react poorly to a candidate who appears to be waltzing to the nomination with minimal effort."
--Comments by Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary for President Obama, who told NBC that he was "floored that she had decided to enter the public fray so quickly. ... Listen, if her campaign becomes an extension really of either her husband's term or the current president's term, it's not necessarily a good deal for her."
--A New York Times story that said Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton when she was secretary of state, was allowed to "take on work for private clients" while at the State Department. Abedin, who still advises Hillary Clinton, is also a controversial figure because she has stood by her husband, Anthony Weiner, as he runs for mayor of New York despite his sexual transgressions. This is a reminder to many of how Hillary Clinton stood by her husband Bill during investigations of his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which was the most mortifying episode of Bill Clinton's presidency.
--A New York Times story that Bill Clinton's private foundation has "become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest." The Times said that the foundation's leaders are trying to improve its operation but added: "Now those efforts are taking on new urgency. In the coming weeks, the foundation, long Mr. Clinton's domain since its formation in 2001, will become the nerve center of Hillary Rodham Clinton's increasingly busy public life."
Some prominent Democrats, including some who worked for Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008, say her biggest challenge, if she runs, will be to seem fresh and innovative and not overly tied to the past.
One of her senior advisers from 2008 told me that she is still "in the process of decompressing and readjusting to civilian life."
Still, he and other Clinton supporters argue that she would be in a commanding position if she got into the 2016 race. She has enormous name recognition, most Democrats think very highly of her, and she could raise huge amounts of money. And Clinton fans say she has moderated her image considerably since her polarizing eight years as first lady.
One reason is that she emerged as a centrist when she was a Democratic U.S. senator from New York, and she can no longer be easily branded a liberal zealot, her supporters say. Despite some setbacks and controversies, she also showed her work ethic and diplomatic skills as secretary of state during Obama's first term, adding to her international credentials and the sense that she is a leader in her own right.
"She is much more her own person," says the former Hillary Clinton aide. "When she ran in 2008 she was very much defined by her experience as first lady. And now she is defined by her experience as secretary of state. It's much more advantageous to be your own person."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.