Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, responded to a question on Planned Parenthood during an appearance Tuesday at the Southern Baptist Convention, noting that he defunded the women’s health group in Florida when he served as the state's governor. But it was an offhanded remark he added afterward that may haunt him for much of his campaign: “I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues.”
Bush's campaign said he "misspoke," but within an hour, Clinton’s campaign tweeted to its 4 million followers that Bush was “absolutely, unequivocally wrong.” And at an event in Denver later Tuesday night, the Democratic front-runner teed off on Bush in a lengthy riff toward the beginning of her speech. "Now, he’s got no problem giving billions of dollars away to the super wealthy and powerful corporations, but I guess women’s health just isn’t a priority for him,” Clinton said. "The truth is, what Jeb said, the other candidates believe, too."
She went on to spend the bulk of her short speech attacking the rest of GOP field on women’s health, immigration, and voting rights.
It’s just the latest sortie in the Clinton campaign’s newly aggressive strategy, which includes labeling Republican candidates as “out of touch and out of date” at every opportunity.
It was not long ago that the former secretary of state seemed eager to stay above the fray. She avoided uttering the names of any Republican candidates until early June, and the mere fact that she did so then, during a speech on voting rights in Texas, was notable and captured headlines.
But now, the gloves are off. Clinton's team is going out of their way to scold, mock, shame, and slam Republican candidates by name. Gone are the veiled shots and subtle contrasts — instead, what's in are the hit-you-over-the-head attacks on GOP presidential hopefuls.
During the past week, the rhetorical shelling from Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters has come at more than once a day, and the pace will likely only increase around the first GOP primary debate on Thursday.
In preparation for that debate, Clinton's rapid response director, Christina Reynolds, sent an email to supporters Tuesday urging them to “Stock up on soft projectiles to hurl at your television to give your jeering some attitude (marshmallows get the job done).” She added that supporters should make sure to charge their phones so they can “tweet about the dangerous policies that candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker are proposing.”
On Monday, following a GOP candidate forum in in New Hampshire, Clinton’s top official in the state dismissed the “lineup of misguided candidates” as “14 out of touch and out of date Republican candidates.”
Earlier Monday, her campaign released a video nominally meant to defend Planned Parenthood, which has come under fire after the release of footage secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists. But Clinton's video, featuring the Democratic candidate speaking straight to the camera, went out of its way to knock a trio of Republican governors running for president — Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — for defunding the women's health organization in their states.
Late last week, when Clinton shared a stage with Bush at an Urban League conference in Florida, she took the opportunity to open fire on his record on race, using the former Florida governor's “Right to Rise” slogan against him. “I don't think you can credibly say that everyone has a right to rise and then say you are for phasing out Medicare and repealing Obamacare,” Clinton said of Bush. "You cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote."
Clinton’s campaign even found a way to attack Republicans while releasing the former secretary of state’s tax returns Friday. “[GOP presidential candidates] want to give me another tax cut I don’t need instead of putting middle class families first,” Clinton said in a statement, calling out Bush and Rubio by name. “That’s a budget-busting give-away to the super-wealthy and the sort of bad economics you’re likely to get from any of the Republican candidates.”
And earlier last week, Clinton’s team released a faux sci-fi noir film trailer mocking GOP candidates Bush, Rubio, Walker, Perry, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump for doubting the science of climate change. The viral-style video accused Republicans of being conspiracy theorists while spooky theremin music played over black-and-white clips of the candidates speaking.
Meanwhile, Clinton has been working one-liners slamming GOP opponents into her stump speeches, especially at Democratic Party events. “Across the board, they are the party of the past, not the future,” she said at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner last month in Virginia.
So why the sudden turn towards offense?
The strategy mirrors that of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Like Obama, Clinton is hoping to frame the election as a choice, not a referendum on herself, said a source familiar with the campaign’s thinking. Attacking Republicans helps highlight the choice while taking some attention off her.
Clinton’s poll numbers have been sliding lately, with her unfavorability rating rising to a net negative 11 points in the latest NBC News poll. Obama similarly saw one of the biggest spikes in his disapproval rating in August of 2011 — exactly the same point in the 2012 election cycle as the current moment is in the 2016 race. Americans don’t like politicians in general, so both Obama and Clinton expected to perform better when compared to Republicans instead of just being judged on their own
Meanwhile, Democratic primary voters like to see their candidates slam Republicans, and Clinton wants to convince voters she’s best prepared to face off against the Republican nominee next year. “I’m having a great debate already with Republicans,” she told Iowa Democrats at the first forum featuring all five of the party’s candidates. The subtext: These other Democrats are not.
And finally, Clinton’s campaign says they’re calling out Republicans to make it more difficult for GOP candidates to adjust their policies throughout the campaign. “Hillary Clinton continues to lay out her bold progressive agenda to help Americans get ahead and stay ahead, and we’ll make clear to voters the stark contrast between that and Republicans' out-of-date and out-of-touch agenda,” said spokesperson Jesse Ferguson.
In 2012, Obama and his allies kept verbal weapons trained on Mitt Romney, even as his GOP rivals rose and fell in the polls. Clinton now seems to be doing the same, concentrating most of her attacks on Bush, Rubio, and Walker — the three Republicans seen as most likely to win the nomination.
Clinton also has ammunition to spare and has lambasted Donald Trump for weeks. But speaking with reporters after a meeting of the AFL-CIO on Thursday, she notably declined to take the bait when asked about Trump. "I’m going to let the Republicans choose their nominee,” she demurred.
Still yet to cross Clinton's lips, however, are the names of any of her Democratic rivals. She's avoided discussing them and the Democratic primary entirely.
For now, at least.