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A Warning Shot for Hillary: Rand Paul plays the Lewinsky card

 

It had not occurred to me that one of the issues in the 2016 presidential race could be Oval Office sex.

Rand Paul went there in a “Meet the Press” interview, invoking Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Is that tawdry episode really going to rear its ugly head 18 years after Clinton was impeached? And isn’t there a risk to Republicans in going down that road?

What the Kentucky senator told David Gregory was: “The media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl who was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and it should be something we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office…And then they have the gall to stand up and say Republicans are having a war on women?”

When Gregory asked whether Hillary should be judged on that question in 2016, Paul split the difference this way: “I’m not saying that. This is in regard to the Clintons, and sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

Translation: It wasn’t Hillary’s fault, but she’d be moving back into the White House with that predator. That was a deliberate signal by the libertarian Republican that any negative associations surrounding “the Clintons” will not be off limits in the campaign in which Paul is gearing up to run.

No one who lived through the events of 1998 and 1999 could say the media gave Bill Clinton a pass on Lewinsky (a story broken by the Washington Post and Newsweek) or some of the other women he was involved with. The saturation coverage was so intense that some of the public was turned off.

But it’s also true that such matters are rarely raised in polite company now that Clinton has reinvented himself as a global statesman whose convention speech for Obama gave the president an important boost. So it’s fair for Paul to remind people of the dark episode that decimated the Clinton presidency and show Republican voters he’s going to be aggressive on that front. What Clinton did was a moral outrage, even though Lewinsky was a willing participant.

But can Republicans really use this against Hillary when she was the wronged woman who was famously lied to?

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said yesterday that such a strategy would backfire on the GOP but that perhaps the media should press the Lewinsky issue if Hillary becomes a candidate.

It would be nice if Hillary Clinton could be judged on her record as a first lady, senator and secretary of State as opposed to her husband's past misdeeds. In an appearance yesterday, she said her greatest regret was Benghazi--clearly an attempt to express remorse for that debacle early on and in contrast to the administration's attempts to minimize the issue.

But Rand Paul is right about one thing: she is a Clinton, and carries all the advantages and all the baggage that suggests. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.