LOS ANGELES – Things are getting very nasty on the other side of the Hillary Clinton race, which makes not only for entertaining viewing by those of us of the Blue Persuasion, but is also instructive material on the realities of running against Hillary.
It’s one thing to make the case that She Can Be Stopped; it’s another to find a real candidate without equally large flaws to do it. What a race with Hillary does is give you an excuse to go to character early, and loudly.
That is certainly what is happening on the Republican side of the New York Senate race. Kathleen Troia McFarland, who is struggling to meet the party requirement of 25 percent of the delegates at the state convention in order to qualify for the primary ballot, has through her campaign manager accused her opponent, Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, of adultery, fathering illegitimate children, nepotism and hiring a sex abuser.
All of this is relevant, it is said, because the future opponent is Hillary Clinton. Running against Hillary, perversely, comes with a disclosure requirement that may be the toughest in politics. Just ask Jeanine Pirro. After all, otherwise, what can you say?
In a letter circulated last week, and in a television appearance on local news last night, longtime political consultant Ed Rollins, who is employed by the underdog McFarland, detailed what are apparently familiar charges in purely local circles, where John Spencer’s relationship with his chief of staff was a poorly kept secret that was no longer a secret when he married her and admitted paternity of their children.
Nepotism was apparently widely written about. The fellow who had been convicted of sodomizing a 15-year-old got fired. All this and more is in the letter, and in Ed’s latest round on television.
Whether it will bring Troia McFarland her 25 percent is anyone’s guess.
The Spencer campaign’s response has been to attack Ed. They have termed the letter a "desperate act" (the race is at 26-14, which makes it hard for either side to be considered desperate, yet) and caricatured Ed as being "like an athelete in the twilight of his career. Everybody knows his career is over except him."
Whatever you think of Ed Rollins, his ability to create an issue just by writing a letter or going on the local news once suggests that his career still has more vitality than many of today’s faceless political consultants whom Joe Klein so eloquently loathes. As for his own defense of his tactics, it comes down to basically this: the Hillary factor.
"With his past lifestyle, it is going to be difficult for Spencer to make the case that Hillary is vulnerable because of her frightening lack of morals and ethics," Ed wrote, arguing that "the absurdity of having to concede the family values issue to Hillary and Bill Clinton will rain further ridicule upon the Republican Party of New York."
Running against Hillary is an excuse to raise questions that would otherwise be impermissible, out-of-bounds, and otherwise way too nasty — all in the interest of clearing the air, so as not to have to concede.
The contest becomes one to determine who really does have a glass house, with clear enough windows to really throw boulders at the Clintons.
And if the likelihood is that no one does, how better to find out whose will hold up the best, or worst, than to start throwing stones in every direction?
Talk about entertainment.
Imagine how that plays out at a presidential level.
There isn’t just one Ed Rollins; there are a dozen of them, each eager to be the loyal soldier who puts out information only to protect us against the "rain of ridicule" from Hillary and Bill later on.
In the interest of protection, we would need to know about everybody’s extra-marital affairs, marital blowups, temper tantrums, financial misdealings and anything even remotely bearing on character as defined in Clinton-land, where there are no limits.
This being spring training, the Republicans do this to each other, with Democrats (except those trained under the tutelage of Grey Davis and Gary South, to understand that meddling in primaries is the easiest time to pick your opponent) just watching, mostly.
Consider the possibilities: there’s Rudy Giuliani’s marriage; Mitt Romney’s religion; John McCain’s age and temper (dare we call it, fitness, you know someone will…); etc...
It’s disgusting, but what else is news? These guys are discussing sodomy, for goodness sakes. And neither of them even has a chance!
Imagine a real contest. Actually, I’m beginning to look forward to it.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the Fox News Channel.