Raj Shah, an Indian American entrusted with the Republican National Committee’s opposition research arm, a beehive of two dozen tech-savvy idealists who have already spent two years searching through decades of government documents, tax filings, TV footage and news archives, has been leading research on Hillary Clinton, the possible Democratic Party candidate in the US General Elections this year.
Searching in the Clinton presidential library to probe the Clintons’ accumulated past, and requesting more than 330 Freedom of Information Act, the teamhas netted 11,000 pages of records, and counting. Clinton “may not like those of us willing to hold her accountable, but she only has herself to blame,” Shah says. “We’re simply citing her own past words, positions and actions.”
“In this political cycle Republican investigators have been given a rare gift: a clear front-runner with a long and public history,” The New York Times wrote of Hillary Clinton. The Republicans boast that their research shop is bigger and better than the Democratic National Committee’s, but in fact the Republicans’ biggest advantage is Mrs. Clinton herself. Over 40 years of public life, she has changed roles, funding mechanisms, policy positions, even regional accents.
“We’ve got all sorts of fun and interesting things that reinforce” Clinton’s image as “untrustworthy, dishonest … whether its policy flip-flops, secret emails, and things about her life story,” Raj Shah, the deputy communications director at RNC, who wrote an operational handbook on GOP strategy against Clinton, said on the nationally syndicated “The Alan Colmes Show” on Fox News Radio April 19.
Clinton, Shah said, was the “architect” of seemingly unpopular policies relating to Libya and the nuclear deal with Iran and other Obama administration policies she staunchly supports even after leaving office. Add to that, her administration of the State Department which he said, showed “failure after failure” revealed in reports such as those routinely issued by the Government Accountability Office, on various government operations. “Donor and special interests rather than those in need … get in the front of the line,” those reports show, Shah contended.
Denying that his work digging the dirt on Clinton supported her contention of a “right wing conspiracy” Shah countered all parties have “professionalized opposition research.”
While admitting that Republican candidates such as billionaire Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz had negatives, he said, “But Hillary Clinton is extremely well defined, and defined in a negative way.
Shah also said the GOP has a big file on Sen. Bernie Sanders, and explained why the GOP plans to focus on the negative aspects of the Iran nuclear deal. “We are prepared for several scenarios including the potential ‘White Night’ scenario with (Vice President) Joe Biden stepping in,” Shah said, “But we are most prepared for Hillary Clinton.”
These revelations can be very damaging to any candidate who is running for public office. For instance, when Mrs. Clinton said recently that she is opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade pact she called a “gold standard” when she was secretary of state — they were able to send out her contradictory quotes on social media almost instantly. They did the same thing when she introduced a broad plan for gun control after largely opposing it in her last presidential run.
In New Hampshire this month, when Mrs. Clinton repeated a questionable story about wanting to join the Marines in her youth, the Republicans could catalog the times she made that claim in the past and the shifting reasons she gave. Recently they compiled a list of all the groups with ties to the financial sector and other industries with business before the federal government that paid Bill and Hillary Clinton millions in speaking fees well before the Clintons released lists on their own.
Americans may hate what this dredging enterprise says about modern campaigning, but it’s a legitimate part of the process, and any seasoned politician is likely to have inconsistencies, failures and embarrassments. What really keeps the opposition research machine humming are efforts by the candidates themselves to be all things to all voters, sacrificing their credibility.