Twenty years after the Seinfeld gang boasted that it was “a show about nothing,” Hillary Clinton is hewing to that credo in her relations with the national press. Minus the Seinfeld zaniness.
Most political journalists are very unhappy about this (“She doesn’t say anything!”), and they were undoubtedly miffed last night when she told CNN, in her first national interview since becoming a candidate, that “I’m not running my campaign for the press, I’m running it for the voters.” But after a quarter century on the firing line, she knows better than anyone in public life that conflict makes news – and it doesn’t help her one whit to indulge the press’ insatiable need for conflict.
Which is why her CNN responses were mostly about nothing. It’s bad for the press, but it’s smart politics. She’s far ahead of Bernie Sanders in the polls and the money race; she doesn’t need to make news, except when it serves her purpose. Her focus right now is on winning the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, and, rest assured, the grassroots Democrats in those key states couldn’t care less if her press comments are a tad vaporous.
Which they certainly were last night.
When she was asked about the corporate and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, she said: “I have no plans to say or do anything about The Clinton Foundation other than to say how proud I am of it.” When she was asked about all the State Department emails that she deleted from her personal server, she said: “There was no law, there was no regulation, there was nothing that did not give me the full authority to decide how I was going to communicate.”
Vaporous, yes. But the people who are most incensed about the Foundation and the emails tend to be Republicans who’d never vote for Hillary anyway. By contrast, I had dinner last night with a guy who’s a classic persuadable voter: “I’ve never liked the Clintons much, and that email thing she did was stupid. But there are bigger issues going on, the Republicans don’t inspire much confidence, so I’d vote for Hillary.”
She meets voters like that all the time on the trail. As she told CNN, those people “want to know what I’m going to do for the economy, what I’m going to do for education, what I’m going to do for health care.” (She’s playing a long game; there’s plenty of time to roll out the policy specifics. An economic spech is slated for next Monday.)
Granted, the polls say that most Americans don’t trust her, and when CNN asked her about that, she blamed “the kind of constant barrage of attacks that are largely fomented by and coming from the right…this has been a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many, many years.” But, again, she was aiming that remark at Democratic primary voters – who happen to agree with her.There’s no better way to stoke Democrats than to invoke their common enemy.
And the trust deficit is overplayed anyway. Anyone who knows their Clinton history will remember what the polls said in 1999, in the aftermath of the Lewinsky scandal. Most Americans said that Bill wasn’t honest or trustworthy – but they said he was doing a good job as president. Most people recognize that effective leaders can also be devious characters. Take a long look at FDR. It’s just a fact of life.
Hillary was predictably most expansive when asked about Donald Trump’s racist remarks. She rubbed salt on that Republican wound: “I feel very bad and very disappointed with him and with the Republican party for not responding immediately and saying, ‘enough, stop it.’ But they are all in the same general (agreement) on immigration….They’re on a spectrum of hostility, which I think is really regrettable in a nation of immigrants like ours.”
Again, that comment was aimed at Democratic primary voters – and at swing voters who are well acquainted already with the GOP’s “spectrum of hostility.” And it just so happens that prominent Hispanic Republicans agree with her. Ana Navarro said the other day, “Trump is doing further harm to the Republican brand, not only with Hispanics, but also with all Americans searching for civility.” Mario Lopez, president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund, said, “This is killing the Republican party and setting back the cause of Republican victory for sure. Latino perceptions of the GOP are suffering a serious setback.”
It wasn’t big news that Hillary is “disappointed” in Trump and the GOP – it’s what we would expect her to say – but it was all the news she cared to make. And until she meets her foes in the Democratic debates, the Seinfeld strategy will likely serve her well. Because she knows how the game works; rest assured that if she was out there dominating the 24/7 news cycle, the press would start writing stories about “Hillary fatigue.”
By the way, when Hillary complains about a “constant barrage of attacks,” here’s a classic example:
Yesterday, right-wing author and admitted felon Dinseh D’Souza tweeted a photo of young Hillary, and asked a provocative question: “Look closely at this Hillary photo; isn’t that a Confederate flag behind her on the bookshelf?” Turns out, of course, that no such flag was pinned there when the actual photo was snapped back in the day.
Gee, I can’t imagine why she has her guard up.