NBC: GOP Efforts to 'Take Down Hillary Clinton' in 'Full Swing,' She's 'Almost Unbeatable'

Opening Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, moderator David Gregory proclaimed: "Republican attempts to take down Hillary Clinton are in full swing after a headline-grabbing attack from Karl Rove. So will Republicans stop at nothing to keep her from running in 2016?" Introducing a report moments later, he wondered: "Is this just the start of a Republican strategy to persuade her not to run?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Gregory turned to correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who declared: "...there is no longer any doubt that some powerful Republicans are playing hardball against Hillary Clinton..." Mitchell snidely remarked: "It all started when Karl Rove, once called 'Bush's Brain,' said Hillary Clinton suffered traumatic brain injury after a 2012 fall and concussion."

Mitchell came up with a sports analogy she thought was clever: "In baseball terms, it looked like a brush-back pitch perhaps to scare Clinton from even running." A soundbite played of Rove, followed by Mitchell adding: "Team Clinton took it seriously enough to bring out their heavy hitter." A clip played of Bill Clinton mocking Republicans for daring to raise questions about his wife's health.

Portraying Rove's unrecorded comments and at conference as a carefully orchestrated attack on Hillary Clinton, Mitchell stated: "The Republican playbook, first a not-so innocent item in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, the Page Six gossip column. As expected, it went viral – the Washington Post, the New York Times, and beyond."

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus observed: "It's sometimes a little bit difficult for the mainstream media to, on its own, say, 'Gee, is her age a legitimate topic of public debate?'"

Mitchell seized on a comment from an anonymous "Republican operative" smearing Rove as "either an evil genius – or just evil."

Soundbites ran of former Obama White House communications director Anita Dunn framing the controversy as a sinister plot by a sexist GOP:

Karl doesn't make mistakes. He is a master at taking whispers and rumors and things that have no substance whatsoever and turning them into news stories....I would expect to see a lot of attacks like this, you know, age or health, without any foundation whatsoever. And also, one's that go more subtly to the issue of gender and whether a woman can really do this job.

Mitchell sympathetically said of Clinton: "This woman, who describes herself as cracking the glass ceiling....is already getting more than her share of curveballs."

Picking up on Dunn's prediction, Mitchell concluded: "And we should note that some Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, think that Rove's attacks are out of line and could even backfire, especially as the GOP is trying to compete for women voters."

The nearly three-minute report had only a single soundbite from Republican strategist Steve Schmidt making the case that questions about Clinton's health were perfectly reasonable: "This is a legitimate issue. The health issues of a presidential candidate nearing 70 have always been part of the debate. And it's not going to be disallowed, no matter how hard the Clinton campaign tries."

Immediately following Mitchell's report, Gregory hammered Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus on the topic, repeatedly demanding he condemn Rove.

At the end of the Sunday show, NBC political director Chuck Todd asserted:

...there are Republicans who believe their best shot at beating her is to do whatever it takes to make her not want to run. Because the demographic problem, particularly in older white women, flocking to her candidacy the first time....It's real. And it makes her almost unbeatable. And that's what makes a lot of Republicans nervous.


Here is a full transcript of Mitchell's May 18 report:

10:30 AM ET TEASE:

DAVID GREGORY: Next on Meet the Press, Republican attempts to take down Hillary Clinton are in full swing after a headline-grabbing attack from Karl Rove. So will Republicans stop at nothing to keep her from running in 2016?

10:31 AM ET SEGMENT:

GREGORY: We'll begin with the story that's been dominating much of the political conversation all week long. And that is Karl Rove's attack on Hillary Clinton. Is this just the start of a Republican strategy to persuade her not to run? Our own Andrea Mitchell here with more on this. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning to you, David. Well, this week there is no longer any doubt that some powerful Republicans are playing hardball against Hillary Clinton, raising questions about her age and her health, even before she decides whether she's a candidate.

It all started when Karl Rove, once called "Bush's Brain," said Hillary Clinton suffered traumatic brain injury after a 2012 fall and concussion. In baseball terms, it looked like a brush-back pitch perhaps to scare Clinton from even running.

KARL ROVE: We don't know what the – what the doctor said about, you know, what does she have to be concerned about. We don't know about what – she's hidden a lot of this.

MITCHELL: Team Clinton took it seriously enough to bring out their heavy hitter.

BILL CLINTON: First they said she faked her concussion. And now they say she's auditioning for a part on The Walking Dead.

[LAUGHTER]

MITCHELL: The Republican playbook, first a not-so innocent item in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, the Page Six gossip column. As expected, it went viral – the Washington Post, the New York Times, and beyond.

BILL O'REILLY: Hillary Clinton versus Karl Rove.

STEPHEN COLBERT: And last week, Karl came out swinging

RUTH MARCUS [WASHINGTON POST]: It's sometimes a little bit difficult for the mainstream media to, on its own, say, "Gee, is her age a legitimate topic of public debate?"

MITCHELL: Republicans were already attacking Clinton for her handling of Benghazi, and even Boko Haram. As one Republican operative said, "Karl is either an evil genius – or just evil."

ANITA DUNN: Karl doesn't make mistakes. He is a master at taking whispers and rumors and things that have no substance whatsoever and turning them into news stories.

STEVEN SCHMIDT: This is a legitimate issue. The health issues of a presidential candidate nearing 70 have always been part of the debate. And it's not going to be disallowed, no matter how hard the Clinton campaign tries.

MITCHELL: Clinton will turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 election. Ronald Reagan was eight months older when he ran in 1980.

DUNN: I would expect to see a lot of attacks like this, you know, age or health, without any foundation whatsoever. And also, one's that go more subtly to the issue of gender and whether a woman can really do this job.

MITCHELL: But this woman, who describes herself as cracking the glass ceiling...

HILLARY CLINTON: I think we should crack it, also. I am 100 percent in favor of that.

MITCHELL: ...is already getting more than her share of curveballs. And it's only the pre-season for 2016.

And we should note that some Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, think that Rove's attacks are out of line and could even backfire, especially as the GOP is trying to compete for women voters. David.

GREGORY: Andrea, thank you so much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC