The Hillary Clinton leviathan presents a real problem for Republicans.
A shadow campaign infrastructure has been created, laying the foundation for a presumed run. If she jumps in, most insiders expect the Democratic field to clear quickly. Meanwhile, the Republican primary looks wide open. Another bloody internal fight could be coming.
The GOP has seen this movie before, when, by the admission of its own operatives, they were whupped in the opposition research game during the 2012 cycle. So how could they stop it from happening again?
Enter America Rising, the most public face of the budding Republican fight against Clinton 2016.
Though it was founded a year ago, America Rising scored its biggest win this March when it released a damaging video showing Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Iowa, disparaging the state’s senior Senator for being “a farmer who never went to law school.” It cemented the group as a force to be reckoned with.
But while it is doing a lot of work for the 2014 cycle, stopping Hillary Clinton is what America Rising seems born to do.
“We definitely took a page out of their playbook,” Tim Miller, the executive director of America Rising PAC, said about the Democrats during an interview with TPM on Tuesday. The political action committee is one of the group’s two incarnations, the other being the registered LLC that does paid work for major conservative groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
“We’re going to have research directors sitting on these 2016 Republican campaigns who are more worried about each other than they are about Hillary,” he said. “We are building an infrastructure outside of the party setting that will benefit our nominee this time, so that we don’t make the same mistakes as last time: They come out of a primary and they’re scrambling.”
Recently, Miller has been regularly blitzing reporters with emails countering the narrative in Clinton’s prolific public speaking life and penning an op-ed for CNN this month that urged the press to treat Clinton like a candidate — no matter that she has yet to announce her 2016 intentions.
The America Rising staff has grown from 34 at the end of 2013 to more than 50 now. They’ve put an operative on the ground in Little Rock, Ark. to comb through the documents periodically released by the Bill Clinton presidential library.
Miller knows he’s up against a well-oiled machine on the pro-Hillary side, comprised of Ready for Hillary, Priorities USA and Correct The Record, an offshoot of American Bridge, the opposition research outfit founded by Clinton ally David Brock. Miller speaks almost reverentially of the Democratic opposition output that thoroughly outperformed the Republicans in 2012.
To that end, America Rising has been partially modeled after Brock’s American Bridge, which might be best known for uncovering then-Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” in 2012. A need was identified in the Republican post-2012 autopsy, which concluded that the party didn’t have opposition research resources to keep up with the Democrats. America Rising was founded by Matt Rhoades, a former campaign manager for Mitt Romney. He was joined by Miller and Joe Pounder, who were both working at the Republican National Committee.
Now the original and its knockoff are both angling to set the early scene for 2016. American Bridge is tracking each of the potential GOP candidates, while America Rising is building a dossier on the Clintons. Correct The Record, in turn, is monitoring the attacks that Miller and company launch against Hillary Clinton.
“That’s a campaign that they’re running right now. They’re trying to avoid the accountability that comes with being a candidate,” Miller said. “We’re certainly not scared of the Clinton machine. but what we are conscious of is the need to build something that can counter it.”
That effort includes their staff member on the ground in Arkansas as well as employees in their headquarters in Arlington, Va. They have a video team that pours through old Clinton footage, a research team on the analog paper trail and one person dedicated to watching her appearances on the speaking circuit. And when the midterms are over in November, more of America Rising’s resources will likely go toward the anti-Hillary campaign.
Though they both seem loathe to admit it, America Rising and the pro-Hillary apparatus are obvious adversaries. Correct The Record was created after Brock noticed the proliferation of anti-Hillary groups, including America Rising, and he realized the need to devote an entire enterprise to fighting against them.
“Nearly a dozen groups exist solely for the purpose of stopping Hillary Clinton from becoming president. America Rising has proven that they have lots of energy and a solid command of rehashed political rhetoric,” Adrienne Elrod, communications director for Correct The Record, told TPM. “If we want to be successful in 2016, we have to put the structure in place now to defend her and make sure her successful record of accomplishments is part of the daily narrative.”
Here’s an example of the back-and-forth: As the Ukraine crisis escalated in March, America Rising blasted Clinton for her handling of Russia as secretary of state. Correct The Record countered against the right wing’s “selective memory” of her tenure. Then America Rising mocked their defensiveness.
“They’re trying to be a check on us. They sprouted out as a response to what we’re doing,” Miller said with what seemed like satisfaction.
Only 31 more months until November 2016.