Hillary Clinton’s Dumb Campaign

Is she getting bad advice, or is she not listening to the political pros on her staff?

Hillary Clinton departs after attending a ceremony at the Sept. 11 memorial in New York on Sunday.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Sept. 12, 2016, 8 p.m.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to watch Hil­lary Clin­ton’s highly schizo­phren­ic cam­paign. On one level, in terms of strategy and tac­tics, or­gan­iz­a­tion­al abil­it­ies, use of tech­no­logy, and the like, it is a very im­press­ive ef­fort, a blend­ing of the best from her 2008 cam­paign with the cream of the 2008 and 2012 Obama pres­id­en­tial ef­forts.

But as the con­cent­ric circles get closer to the can­did­ate, the people oc­cupy­ing the in­ner circles are heav­ier on long­time Clin­ton loy­al­ists rather than polit­ic­al pros, the cam­paign be­comes more opaque, and the tac­tics get more baff­ling. Wheth­er it is pre-cam­paign de­cisions on hand­ling emails, go­ing eight months without a press con­fer­ence, or the bum­bling hand­ling of her health situ­ation in re­cent days, the ques­tion keeps re­cur­ring: Is Clin­ton not get­ting good ad­vice or just not tak­ing it? One won­ders wheth­er there are enough people will­ing to stand up to her and tell her what she needs to know but may not want to hear.

Quite a few cur­rent and past can­did­ates for pres­id­ent and many oth­er of­fices would have been well ad­vised to go eight months without a press con­fer­ence or to duck ques­tions from the news me­dia. Maybe they were in­tel­lec­tu­ally chal­lenged or chron­ic­ally un­in­formed or just ac­ci­dent-prone. But Clin­ton is ex­ceed­ingly bright, well in­formed, and far less apt to make gaffes than the vast ma­jor­ity of can­did­ates who run for pres­id­ent. Keep­ing her walled off from re­port­ers only served to ali­en­ate the press corps that cov­ers her and re­in­force the feel­ings of many voters that des­pite her brains, know­ledge, and com­pet­ence, she is not someone to be trus­ted and is al­ways hid­ing something.

One of the biggest mis­takes that cam­paigns make is to over-sched­ule a can­did­ate. Any­body who has covered a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign can tell you how ar­du­ous it is. I don’t fol­low can­did­ates around much, and in­stead de­fer to those who do on a day-to-day basis.

But I vividly re­mem­ber spend­ing a day on the bus and plane in the Clin­ton press en­tour­age in 2007 cris­scross­ing Iowa. We were up with the sun and didn’t get back to the hotel un­til after mid­night. I was 54 at the time; Clin­ton was a few months short of 60. I was as­ton­ished how gruel­ing the day was, and wondered how any­one, par­tic­u­larly over 50, could put in day after day of that grind­ing sched­ule, with every ut­ter­ance parsed and al­ways un­der a polit­ic­al mi­cro­scope.

A lot of can­did­ates are over-sched­uled, something that of­ten leads to polit­ic­al mis­takes, men­tal er­rors, or health is­sues. Some­times it is the fault of cam­paign op­er­at­ives pil­ing too much in­to the sched­ule; oth­er times, it is a can­did­ate who won’t say no, adding events to an already full sched­ule. But bad things hap­pen to ex­hausted can­did­ates. Either their brains lose track of their tongues, or they break down phys­ic­ally, of­ten at in­op­por­tune times.

The long delay without provid­ing an ex­plan­a­tion of the Fri­day pneu­mo­nia dia­gnos­is and the ap­par­ent faint­ing in­cid­ent Sunday morn­ing both play in­to the nar­rat­ive of Clin­ton hav­ing something to hide. Why not an­nounce on Fri­day that the former sec­ret­ary of State had been deal­ing with a cough, vis­ited with her doc­tor, was dia­gnosed with pneu­mo­nia, and was ad­vised to get off the cam­paign trail for a few days and cut back her sched­ule the fol­low­ing week? What would be the harm in that?

No mat­ter what the buzz in con­ser­vat­ive pub­lic­a­tions and on far-right web­sites and talk shows (the Na­tion­al En­quirer re­por­ted over the sum­mer that she had only months to live), it would have been bet­ter to just tell the truth. It would be per­fectly nor­mal for someone with a back­break­ing sched­ule to dial it back and re­cu­per­ate. Be­sides, it could double as some quiet de­bate prep. But not to tell the me­dia cov­er­ing her was simply dumb.

The old joke is that you are not para­noid if people really are out to get you. Well, there have been people out to get Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton go­ing back to their days in Little Rock and the Arkan­sas gov­ernor’s man­sion. De­vel­op­ing a thick skin and skep­ti­cism about the press is per­fectly nat­ur­al, but can be un­at­tract­ive and ul­ti­mately self-de­feat­ing. Se­cret­ive and de­fens­ive be­ha­vi­or can per­petu­ate and ex­acer­bate press cov­er­age that de­picts her as un­like­able and not to be trus­ted.

One of the wisest poll­sters in the busi­ness, Peter Hart, has noted on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions that Hil­lary Clin­ton does not face a glass ceil­ing but in­stead has a glass cur­tain that pre­vents many voters from feel­ing close to her and get­ting com­fort­able with her. Clin­ton and her cam­paign’s pen­chant for secrecy and evas­ive­ness are con­trib­ut­ing to a race that is far more com­pet­it­ive than it should be. Be­ing the less­er of two evils with Don­ald Trump as the al­tern­at­ive is a low bar. Hil­lary Clin­ton is not clear­ing it with ease.

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