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.