After bashing Bill Clinton for years, the Republican party organization is leaving the former president alone in his scandals as it shifts focus to promoting President George W. Bush and recruiting members of minority groups.
"Bill Clinton's history," Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who took over as Bush's hand-picked chairman of the Republican National Committee in January, told Reuters in an interview.
"He's yesterday's guy, and to constantly be focusing the public policy discussion on the former president and his various shenanigans is just not productive to move the country ahead," Gilmore said.
Gilmore said that although the party had said little about Clinton amid controversies over his last-minute presidential pardons and other scandals, it was not giving him a free ride.
"I think that people have a perfect right to investigate, particularly the criminal justice authorities, but the president's agenda and the RNC agenda is not to be distracted by yesterday's guy," he said.
During Clinton's presidency, the Republican committee helped lead the party's charge against Clinton, issuing almost daily denunciations of his policies and scandals.
But Gilmore said the party organization would undergo significant changes under his chairmanship. In addition to its traditional tasks of raising money and helping candidates, it will work to promote Bush's political agenda of tax cuts and education reforms and to improve the Republicans' dismal standing among America's growing ranks of ethnic voters.
SEEKING A "FAIR HEARING"
"The Republican party has worked so hard for so long on minority outreach, and we have not succeeded," Gilmore said. "Our challenge is we don't know enough people to have a fair hearing."
Black voters in particular overwhelmingly rejected Bush in November's election and turned out in record numbers to cast 90 percent of their votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore. Blacks accounted for about 10 percent of last year's vote nationwide.
Republicans are also targeting Hispanics, who also make up about 10 percent of the voting population and are expected to overtake blacks as the largest U.S. minority by 2005.
Gilmore said he was creating a party division responsible for minority outreach. He has asked state party leaders to begin cultivating influential, non-Democratic black and Hispanic leaders they did not already know.
He said there were no numerical recruiting goals in view of the history of disappointments. Efforts will focus on building relationships that extend beyond campaign cycles.
"It is not a matter of taking our approaches for any particular campaign," he said. "It is rather a long-term approach to build understanding, cooperation and a relationship."
Gilmore said the party need not compromise its principles to woo minority voters. Bush's across-the-board tax cut and education proposals will appeal to working-class and inner-city populations, he said.
The committee is beefing up its political operation to focus on organization and training, he said. Republicans need to catch up to Democrats in building ties to grass-roots organizations that can help wage political battles, he said.
"The array of people that marched up to the lectern to denounce John Ashcroft shows you how enormously organized they are," Gilmore said, referring to the confirmation battle over Bush's attorney general. "We have not done as well with that as the Democratic Party has, and I think we have to do more."
The party will be pushing hard over the next month for Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal and his education reforms, Gilmore said. "The RNC is certainly enlisted in in the Bush army," he said. Top party officials are in daily contact with top aides at the White House, he said, and RNC aides said publicity and promotional efforts were being closely coordinated.
The committee has yet to draft Bush to lend his fund-raising skills, which brought record donations to his primary campaign. "To the extent that the president would be willing to participate in fund-raising opportunities, that would be a big advantage or a big asset for the party," Gilmore said.
But he said he recognized that Bush must not obscure his message of bipartisanship.
"He has a dual role. He is leader of the party ... but at the same time, this president is certainly trying to improve the tone in the country and trying to reach a more bipartisan approach, and so those roles must be harmonized," Gilmore said.