I was listening to Byron York discuss this column with Bill Bennett on Bennett’s “Morning in America” a few minutes ago. Byron focused on the criticism Jeb has gotten for not responding in kind — or in some other way — to Hillary Clinton’s attack on him at the Urban League convention last week. Hillary spoke first and she offered a deeply partisan, one might even say shabby, attack on Bush. Why didn’t Bush respond? No doubt you can talk it round and you can talk it square, but it seems pretty obvious to me (and it seems to Byron and Bill) that Bush should have said something, at least in defense of his own record. Indeed, the whole speech was a defense of his record on the issues the Urban League cares about. Why not at least say something like “I think it’s sad and unfortunate that Mrs. Clinton felt the need to put on her partisan attack dog hat this early in the campaign season. These are important issues and it’s a sign of the weakness of her campaign that she feels the need to distort my record.” And then go on his merry way explaining his own record — which he was doing anyway. I think one can over-read the significance of Bush’s decision to ignore Clinton entirely, but at a moment when everyone’s talking about the need for a candidate who “fights” he could have shown us something. Anyway you can read all about that in Byron column.
What I think is equally interesting is the fact that Hillary Clinton felt the need to do what she did in the first place. Just look at all the coverage of the mess the Democratic field is in these days. The image of people talking about Joe Biden as the savior of the Democratic Party is about three notches shy of seeing Nancy Pelosi stocking up on bottled water, MREs and shotgun ammo. (Also, the fact that, as matter of communications strategy, the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will not distinguish Democrats from socialists, is as hilarious as it is telling).
Remember, the debate among Democrats isn’t whether Hillary can win the nomination. That still seems fairly assured. The question is whether she can win the general. The fact that she had to go out on the stage as a fairly graceless attack dog this early in the campaign season strikes me as a very obvious sign of weakness. Hillary is pretty awful at selling herself or her ideas, but she is good at laying down and, more importantly, drawing partisan fire. She took her shots, but failed to get Bush to shoot back. I’m sure she would have preferred if Bush replied in kind forcing the Democratic Party to rally to her side out of partisan loyalty. And I think it would have been in Bush’s interest to do so. But if I had to guess, we’re going to see a lot more of this kind of stuff from Hillary in the coming weeks. She’s got to do something to reassure and rally Democrats.