By: Madison Friend
After a widely ridiculed story in The New York Times headlined, “Clinton to Show MoreHumor and Heart, Aides Say”, Hillary seems to have changed tactics once again as her campaign grapples with the surging popularity of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the potential entry of Vice President Joe Biden to the race for the democratic nomination.
Clinton gave a rare live interview Sunday morning to John Dickerson on CBS’s Face the Nation where she seemed more animated, aggressive, and comfortable than usual. She kept her cool even as Dickerson grilled her about falling poll numbers, Benghazi, and her email debacle.
She looked particularly well-suited to the presidency when asked about her foreign policy plans. As former Secretary of State, Clinton has a clear advantage over her challengers in this area; Sanders’ chairmanship of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which he often cites when asked about his foreign policy experience, seems less relevant than Clinton’s extended list of credentials.
Even as she took steps to overcome her image problems, Clinton continued to stumble when questioned about her decision to use a personal email account and private server during her tenure at the State Department. She apologized for conducting State Department business from a personal account, but (yet again) offered no clear explanation for why she housed the account on a private server, insisting she is not the first top government official to do so (Dickerson quarreled with her on this front, but she stayed firm). When asked specifically who she was sorry to and what she was sorry for regarding the email incident, Clinton said, “I’m sorry I made a choice that has raised all of these questions.”
That said, the media seems less focused on the email scandal now than it has in months. The constant, slow drip of developments in the story has (for the time being) dried up. Her poll numbers are strong nationwide, weaker in areas (Iowa, New Hampshire) where her chief rival, Sanders, has made concerted, organized campaign efforts. As each campaign begins to look past the first two primary voting states to the battlegrounds of Super Tuesday, their strategies look different; Bernie Sanders claimed his campaign will continue their “knocking on doors” approach in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow, while Clinton’s camp sounds far more combative, saying that they will build up a “firewall” of states in the South that will ultimately secure her the nomination.
The prognosis? While Hillary maintains a lead over Sanders in many states and nationwide, there have been no signs that her current slide in the polls will stop anytime soon. For as long as Clinton refuses to give a clear explanation for her choices regarding her emails as Secretary of State, voters will continue to question her honesty and trustworthiness. There are too many unanswered questions – and dogged Republicans that will jump at any chance to take Clinton down – that it’s hard to believe this story won’t gain traction again as investigations into the possible mishandling of government information continue.
Moreover, a few solid interview performances (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Ellen, etc.) aren’t going to change the public’s perception of Clinton’s (lack of) authenticity. On Face the Nation she yelled, almost annoyed, “I am a real person!” Her exasperation points to a deeper problem. It’s not that voters don’t see Hillary as a competent, intelligent, multi-faceted human being. It’s that what she preaches doesn’t always line up with her practices. It’s difficult for voters to reconcile a candidate’s pledge to take on big money and reform campaign finance, for example, with the knowledge that that very same candidate intends to raise 2 billion dollars to fund her campaign through various Super PAC’s. These discrepancies make her seem ingenuine, and go some way toward explaining why the words most frequently associated with Clinton’s name are “dishonest”, “untrustworthy”, and “liar”.
Clinton has a long road ahead of her if she wants to win back the trust of the Democratic electorate and rebuild some of the support she’s lost since announcing her candidacy. That’s not to say she won’t win the nomination – just that it’s looking more and more like anyone’s game.