It’s more than 1,250 days until the next presidential election and for all intent and purposes the campaign has already begun. The first Republican attack ad aired on May 12 and its target was Hillary Clinton, widely predicted to be the Democrats’ 2016 nominee if she decides to run.
It’s more than 530 days to 2014’s mid-term elections, and the campaign for that is in full swing. On the Democrats’ side, it features, among others, President Barack Obama who is making fundraising trips to help his party win back the House of Representatives.
Raising funds was also the aim of the anti-Clinton ad. The 90-second commercial was created by American Crossroads, the “super political action committee” founded by Karl Rove, the man George W. Bush called “the architect” of his 2004 presidential victory. To counter American Crossroads and other Republican fund-raising organizations, Clinton supporters launched their own super PAC, Ready for Hillary, in April.
That’s three and a half year before the elections and speaks volumes about an electoral system where intervals between campaigns have shrunk to virtually zero and where money plays an ever-increasing role. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, super PACs reported spending $609,417,654 in the 2012 election cycle.
Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans dislike the vast rivers of cash spent to influence elections for president and for Congress .But barring a judicial miracle, the money will continue to flow. Super PACs go back to a Supreme Court decision in 2010 which lifted limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and labor unions. Since then, they have proliferated like mushrooms. There are now 1,300 of them.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court tore down the wall between corporate wealth and campaigns for public office. The decision has been a matter of controversy. A dissenting judge, John Paul Stevens, described the court’s opinion as “a rejection of the common sense of the American people who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”
Water under the bridge, so let’s return to the first attack ad on the long road to 2016. It is a preview of how Republicans are hoping to dent the image of Clinton, whose sky-high popularity rating outshines that of any of the potential Republican hopefuls for 2016. The commercial is part of an increasingly acrimonious dispute over an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when Clinton was Secretary of State.
Four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya, were killed. Republicans charge that the Obama administration failed to provide adequate security for the facility, issued a misleading initial account of who the attackers were, failed to act when the mission came under sustained mortar and machine gun fire, and then tried to cover up a chain of bad decisions. How closely Clinton was involved in these is a question that has not been fully answered.
The American Crossroads commercial draws on images from two congressional hearings on Benghazi, one in January and one in May. In the first, Clinton testified and responded angrily to a question on why the administration’s original account wrongly portrayed the incident as a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an anti-Islamic video made by a single American.
In a flare of arm-waving temper she responded: “Was it because of a protest, or guys out for a walk who decided they’d kill some Americans — what difference at this point does it make?” The narrator on the slickly-made ad responds: “The difference is a cover-up, and four American lives that deserve the truth.”
It’s still more than 1,250 days before the elections and a lot can happen until then. But it’s a safe bet that a version of this exchange will feature in Republican commercials if Clinton runs. After all, there is no shortage of cash for the production of videos.