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The Hillary Clinton Living Inside the Republican Brain

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Imagine a police sketch artist drawing a picture of Hillary Clinton based only on descriptions from the Republicans at the Fox Business Network debates on Tuesday night. The sketch would be unappealing, obviously, but also weird and contradictory. According to the collective wisdom of the GOP crowd, Clinton is a power-mad monster who is nearly unstoppable, but she’s also weak. She is afraid of debating Republicans, but Republican debates are making her stronger. She is a hard leftist who hasn’t been shaken from her mission to drive America into socialism, but also a flip-flopper who only recently began capitulating to the left. At one point in the undercard debate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal summed up the theme: “Look, we all agree Hillary Clinton is bad.” But how is she bad? Let us analyze.

The Republicans who talked about Hillary Clinton the most last night were New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, two more moderate guys who haven’t fared well in the primary. Perhaps they wanted to let more conservative voters know that they know who the real enemy is. But their sketch of the enemy is confounding. Republicans are sure Hillary is bad, but they aren't sure why. 

An easily beatable candidate who's also a nearly-unbeatable juggernaut: “Hillary Clinton is gift-wrapping this election to us,” Jindal said. “Hillary Clinton is running so far to the left … to catch up to her socialist opponent, Bernie Sanders, it's hard to even see her anymore,” Christie said. And she's afraid of the looming fight, he added: “Hillary Clinton doesn't want one minute on that stage with me next September when I'm debating her, and prosecuting her for her vision for America." And yet despite cluelessly adopting positions that would turn off most of the electorate, she is a powerful electoral force. “I had Bill and Hillary in my state—James Carville managed the race against me—a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans,” said former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennslyvania. (Yet he had triumphed! Until 2006, when he lost.) To beat her, Ohio Governor John Kasich said, Republicans need “a CEO mentality,” and “our ideas have to add up. They have to be solid.” Bush chimed in with a similar warning when Trump's idea of deporting millions of immigrants arose: “They're doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this." Or maybe she's laughing because of Bush's immigration plan (Cruz: "The Democrats are laughing—because if Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose"). Whichever one she finds hilarious, the threat of a Clinton victory is real, and dangerous: “We cannot lose this election,” Trump said.

A woman with no ideas except for bad ones: Clinton has no ideas (Rubio: "The political left has no ideas about the future”). Except for one: single-payer health care (Christie: “She will completely nationalize the federal health care system”).

A criminal-ish politician: Christie, in particular, painted Clinton with a tint of criminality. Christie said being governor of a blue state made him better equipped to win nationally, but he seemed to think his time as a U.S. attorney was more appealing; four times, he said some version of the idea that he would be best at "prosecuting" her.

A foreign-policy failure who agrees with Republicans on foreign policy: Clinton is trembling and weak on foreign policy. (Bush: “This president, and Hillary Clinton both, do not believe the United States has a leadership role to play." Rubio: “Around the world, every day brings news of a new humiliation for America—many the … direct consequence of decisions made when Hillary Clinton was the secretary of state." Christie: "Remember why we're in the position we're in with China, because of an absolutely weak and feckless foreign policy that was engineered by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.") At the same time, she agrees with many Republicans about what to do with the gravest international crisis, in Syria (Paul: “The idea of a no-fly zone, realize that this is also something that Hillary Clinton agrees with several on our side with…”).

A big spender who is also stingy: She wants to tax Americans to death (Christie: "Hillary Clinton's coming for your wallet"). But she won't spend the cash to build up some of the biggest government expenses (Fiorina: "Imagine a Clinton presidency. Our military will continue to deteriorate. Our veterans will not be cared for").

A socialist who loves Wall Street: Clinton is a socialist (Christie: “What Hillary Clinton is talking about doing, if she's president of the United States, is to make sure that the government gets even more involved in the economy, even more involved in making choices for everybody”) who is screwing up the financial sector by backing Dodd-Frank, which is unpopular on Wall Street (Bush: “This vast overreach has created a huge problem for our country, and Hillary Clinton wants to double down on that”). But she’s also in the pocket of Wall Street (Cruz: “Hillary Clinton embodies the cronyism of Washington.” By contrast, Cruz said he would go after the Wall Street criminals of the financial crisis.). 

It gets worse. Clinton wants to regulate the economy to death (Carson: "Even for the average person, every single regulation costs money. ... Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton won't tell you that that's the thing that's really hurting middle class in the core. They'll say it's the rich, take their money, but that won't help"). But she has not backed the right regulations (Bush: "What we ought to do is raise the capital requirements so banks aren't too big to fail").

Their bizarrely contradictory portrait of Clinton points to what's confusing in the Republicans' own message. They know Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are on the other team; what they don't know is why the GOP team is better or more noble, or what exactly binds it together. They can't agree on what parts of the old GOP platform should be thrown out—Santorum says Republicans should pander less to business owners than to the people who work for them, Paul suggests ditching some social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy, Bush says lose the hostility to immigrants, and Trump says cut entitlements. But they do agree on what to keep: being against whatever Clinton is for. And whoever she is.