Even before the re-emergence of Monica Lewinsky with Thursday’s Vanity Fair article offering her latest take on her affair with Bill Clinton and the ensuing constitutional crisis, stories about the world’s most famous intern had been hovering in the national news for months.
Lewinsky had become a subject of conversation again because of the ongoing debatewithin the Republican Party over how to treat President Clinton’s impeachment if Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016. Back in February, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Monicagate was very much a live issue. Sen. Rand Paul, the supposed GOP youth savior in 2016, also views the Lewinsky affair as a rich line of re-inquiry, having called Bill Clinton a “serial philanderer” who displayed “predatory behavior.”
Karl Rove, meanwhile, said talk of anything impeachment-related would only make a potential GOP candidate look petty. Whether or not it’s wise to do so, some Republican operatives see a potential Hillary candidacy as an opportunity to reintroduce a new generation of voters to some of the more salacious aspects of the first Clinton presidency.
“A huge portion of the electorate that’s going to be her target don’t remember the Clinton administration at all,” said Tim Miller, executive director of the early 2016 super PAC America Rising, in a Talking Points Memo article published a day before Vanity Fair announced its Lewinsky story. “A lot of the negative stuff about the Clinton era has congealed into like a joke or a historical blip, but people don’t remember the details.” Miller, whose group had already begun looking for opposition research on Clinton last year, wants to make sure that these young voters don’t have a “a clouded vision, a nostalgic vision of the Clinton era.” (I reached out to Miller for this story, but he declined to comment.)
The idea of the GOP reintroducing Bill Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky to younger voters may seem pointless and potentially self-damaging. When you dig deeper, it becomes even dumber. More than any other emotion, the millennial generation that would be offered this introduction to the high crimes and misdemeanors of President Clinton are either bored by the story, or view it with the sort of nostalgia that Miller described.
When the “new” Lewinsky story came up in the Slate newsroom on Tuesday, there was a millennial cohort that responded with total indifference.
“The whole scandal remains opaque to me to this day,” said one colleague who was 10 years old at the time. Her main interaction with the affair had been a question on her high school AP U.S. History exam. (She had to guess at the answer; some of her classmates had no idea.) “It’s a black hole of knowledge for me, between my actual current events experiences and study of history. I guess I should read up on it and inform myself, but it just seems so silly in hindsight that I wouldn’t waste my time.”