Who Says Hillary Clinton Had a Bad Week?

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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For Hillary Clinton, last week wasn't so bad. The shots she took in former Defense Secretary Bob Gates' memoir are glancing and probably ephemeral; the crisis confronting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may prove more important for the ex-secretary of state's presidential aspirations.

Democrats, including more than a few in the Clinton camp, feared Christie would be the most formidable Republican opponent in the 2016 general election. Most rationalized, however, that Christie couldn't win his party's nomination because he would be unacceptable to the conservative base.

The scandal over Christie staff members and appointees closing access roads to a major bridge in northern New Jersey last September, allegedly to hurt Democratic office holders in the area, is more substantive than the other complaints about Christie and could jeopardize his political future. There are ongoing investigations and more damaging news may materialize.

For Clinton, the biggest news of the past seven days is that her toughest 2016 opponent has been dealt a potentially serious setback.

By contrast, it's hard to see how she's hurt by the criticism in the new book by Gates, who served as secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration and, alongside Clinton, in President Barack Obama's administration. Gates charges that then-Senator Clinton opposed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq based on a political calculation, and that the Obama White House cut her out of major foreign policy decisions.

First, Gates is far more complimentary than critical of Clinton as secretary of state, praising her as a valuable colleague who was usually right on the substance and was a good representative of the U.S. (In full disclosure: I have only skimmed the book.)

If Clinton runs for president, a 2007 Senate vote -- much less the Iraq war -- will barely be a footnote. Charges that a Clinton makes decisions based upon political calculations will be less than shocking to voters.

At the same time, if voters don't much care about foreign policy, they are unlikely to care much about who was, or wasn't, involved in the decision making process. If Clinton runs, her record, which lacks many substantive achievements, will be neither a big asset nor a liability.

Some members of the business establishment and the Christie camp, such as political strategist Karl Rove, have rallied behind the governor, insisting that by firing some of the top aides implicated in the scandal he's strengthened himself politically. This seems to be wishful thinking.

The scandal has given Christie's opponents, not just Democrats but conservatives as well, more ammunition -- including the opportunity to challenge the governor's insistence that he's "not a bully."

Right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh has renewed his attacks on Christie and has criticized Fox News for taking it easy on him in the network's coverage of the scandal. As further evidence of the mounting pressure on Christie, Senator Lindsay Graham, a mainstream Republican facing tough primary opposition as he seeks re-election in South Carolina, said the New Jersey bridge incident reinforces the image of Christie "as a bully."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net