Hating Hillary

If you asked an average Republican why America shouldn't make Hillary Clinton president, the response you'd likely get would be, "Where do I start?"

There's just so much they don't like about her, from her radical feminist schemes, to that jerk she's married to, to the way that she personally ordered her friends in Al Qaeda to kill Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi (probably, anyway—the  select committee is going to find out). Hell, why not just suggest she has brain damage?

That's what naughty little Karl Rove did yesterday, in reference to the incident in 2012 when Clinton fainted and knocked her head on the way down, then had a blood clot removed that doctors discovered when she went for treatment.

"Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she's wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what's up with that," Rove said. Sure, it was only three days, and the glasses she wore are for people who have temporary double vision, not people who have traumatic brain injury. But let's not quibble over details. (Today, Rove says, "Of course she doesn't have brain damage." Of course.)

Clinton's actual health, like that of every other potential presidential candidate, is certainly a legitimate matter for discussion. But when it comes to this particular candidate, Republicans can't seem to keep themselves from taking any issue and turning the accusations up to eleven. It isn't enough to say that, since she'll be 69 when she would take office, we should ask whether she's still sharp, just as we did with Bob Dole and John McCain, who were even older. They have to go to brain damage. It isn't enough to say that Benghazi demonstrates that security at American consulates under her watch as secretary of state wasn't what it should have been, and therefore she bears ultimate responsibility for what happened there. They have to imagine a nefarious conspiracy, and schedule untold hours of hearings to uncover it—hearings that will, in the end, reveal nothing horrible about Clinton's actions, but will almost certainly make them look like fools.

The louder and more desperate those charges get, the more they reflect poorly on the ones making them. As I wrote earlier today over at the Washington Post, the single greatest challenge for Republicans in 2016 could be whether they can control their infinite loathing for Hillary Clinton. Because there will be outbursts, and ones much more shocking than this. Some Tea Party congressman is going to indulge his fantasies about torturing and killing her. Some right-wing radio host is going to go off on a rant so misogynistic and vulgar that even Republicans are going to have to distance themselves from it. Some surrogate for the GOP nominee is going to whip up a crowd into a frenzy of snarling faces and shouts of hate. There will be a drumbeat of sexism and violent rhetoric and appalling signs waved at rallies. The question is how far it all goes, and how good a job the wiser Republicans do at containing it.

Because they do want some of that hatred, just not too much. They want their people agitated and angry and afraid, so they volunteer and contribute and keep the energy up. They don't mind if conservative activists trade emails with Clinton conspiracy theories, or come up with yet more jokes premised on the novel idea that Clinton has male sexual organs or is a castrating harpy (keep 'em coming, though, really, it's so original). They want just enough fuel to keep the engine going smoothly forward, but not so much that it overheats and explodes.

But once it really gets moving, they may have no way of stopping it.