By PETER NICHOLAS – – –
Four Questions for Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination. But she heads into the general election weakened by an unexpectedly strong challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders. Polling shows her favorability ratings have tumbled among independent voters, while even the Democrats’ view of her has dimmed.
Last week, we asked four questions of the Sanders campaign. Now let’s turn the tables and pose four questions to Mrs. Clinton as she rolls into the next phase of her presidential bid.
1. Why don’t more people trust her?
This has been a problem that’s not going away. A Wall Street Journal poll last month showed that among all voters, only 19% view Mrs. Clinton as “honest and straightforward.” That’s worse than presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump; 35% saw him as honest.
Part of the problem might be her language. David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former campaign adviser, put it this way in a CNN appearance: When Mr. Sanders speaks, “you get a sense that there’s no filter through which his words are passing,” he said. “You don’t get that sense, many times, with Hillary Clinton.”
In fairness, voters may have unrealistic expectations of what Mrs. Clinton or any politician can freely say. The press likes elected officials who sound unscripted (think Vice President Joe Biden), but they’re quick to pounce at the first gaffe (Mr. Biden again). Still, after a quarter century on the national stage, Mrs. Clinton still appears to be searching for her voice.
Take a recent example. In an interview with CNN last week, Mrs. Clinton was asked whether she could have imagined in 2005 when she attended Mr. Trump’s wedding that the two might face off one day in a presidential race.
“Look, back then I didn’t think I’d run for president,” Mrs. Clinton said.
How many viewers bought that? In 2005, Mrs. Clinton was a former first lady who had already spent four years in the Senate. The presidential election was just three years away and no incumbent would be on the ballot. Polls that year showed Mrs. Clinton to be the early Democratic front-runner. She didn’t have it in her head back then that there was a decent chance she’d make the race? Two years after the Trump wedding, Mrs. Clinton was a declared candidate for president, telling Iowans, “I’m in it to win it.”
2. Why did she give six-figure speeches after leaving the State Department?
Speaking fees she’s received from banks and other interests are a continuing headache. Mr. Sanders has used them as a cudgel, questioning whether anyone who made such large fees could be expected to rein in corporate excesses. Mr. Trump has signaled that he’ll reprise Mr. Sanders’s attacks on Mrs. Clinton, meaning voters are likely to hear more about her speeches in the months to come.
Mrs. Clinton, referring to her stint on the paid speaking circuit, has said audiences wanted to hear about her work as secretary of state, including her role in urging Mr. Obama to launch the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. She said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that businesspeople “want to know more about the world” and that is “a good conversation for people to be having.”
Mrs. Clinton didn’t need the money. A review of her financial disclosure statements covering 11 years showed her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made $105 million in speaking fees. Was the payday worth the political toll?
3. What happened with those emails again?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation will decide at some point whether there was any possible criminality associated with Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email account and private server during her four years as secretary of state.
Whatever the bureau finds, the email story is likely to dog her campaign through the general election in November and perhaps spill into her presidency if she wins. The Washington investigative machinery keeps whirring, with various inspectors general and congressional committees probing Mrs. Clinton’s email practices more than a year after the story broke.
Mrs. Clinton has said she set up the system this way for “convenience” sake; she didn’t want to carry two devices for work and personal emails.
But inconveniences abounded. An email in August 2011 from a State Department official to Mrs. Clinton’s top aides noted that her “personal” BlackBerry wasn’t working “possibly because of her personal email server is down …”
Mr. Sanders gave Mrs. Clinton a gift by laying off the email issue during the nomination fight. Mr. Trump won’t be so generous.
4. With whom will Mrs. Clinton surround herself if she becomes president?
Two different sorts of advisers have served Mrs. Clinton over the years. One might be described as fierce Clinton loyalists who see a big part of their role as protecting her name and reputation. Another camp is made up of professional operatives and policy experts who don’t have longstanding personal ties to Mrs. Clinton or her husband.
It seems the loyalists had greater sway in her first presidential run, which she lost, while the professional operatives and policy experts are ascendant in her 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination, which she’s winning.
Should Mrs. Clinton enter the White House, a central question is who she’ll put in top jobs: the loyalists or the pros?