It all seems so long ago. As 2014 drew to a close and 2015 dawned, Hillary Clinton loomed large over the national political scene. Her presence cast a long and intimidating political shadow. An air of inevitability predominated. To friends and enemies alike, her quest and drive to occupy the White House in 2016 seemed difficult to stop. Polls taken against an array of possible Republican candidates showed her with commanding leads. She was a political juggernaut.
Fast-forward to today and things are much different. An August CNN poll shows her with a 6-point lead over Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. She has a 9-point lead over Jeb Bush. To be certain, in politics nothing is guaranteed, and as serious campaigning got underway, Clinton’s commanding poll numbers were sure to deflate, but the contraction taking place now is exceeding expectations.
She seems to have violated a central maxim of politics: “To the greatest extent possible, do thyself no harm.” Yet, in an incredible act of self-mutilation, Clinton has injured herself in ways that’s difficult to grasp. She’s suffering the “death of a thousand cuts” and unfortunately she is the one holding the blade. Though chances of success are still in her favor, unease and concern among her staff, her advisors and even Clinton herself are palpable.
Days ago, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that Clinton, as Secretary of State, did not comply with government policies through her exclusive use of a personal email account. The judge noted, “We wouldn’t be here today if the employee [Clinton] had followed government policy.” He also gave an opening for the FBI to expand its current inquiry by pursuing emails that she may have deleted. They are currently investigating whether there was classified information on her account.
The whole ordeal is beyond bizarre. It’s hard to fathom that the nation’s 67th Secretary of State had ALL her official electronic communication handled by a small technology company based in Denver, Colorado. Inexplicably, to carry out official business as the nation’s top diplomat, Clinton decided to use only a private email account. She never had a standard “State.gov” account. She had her own private server set up in her home in a bathroom closet. The State Department had no access to, or control over, this server.
To many friends and supporters, this whole situation is totally mind-boggling. She has unwittingly handed Republicans, on a silver platter, an opening they’d been desperately hoping for.
The question that seems to have a difficult time being answered is, why?
Appearing on Bloomberg Television’s “With All Due Respect” political affairs show, and with a far-from-hostile interviewer, Clinton’s Chief Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri had an extremely difficult time trying to answer some very basic and genuine questions about the whole affair. It was painful to watch.
Without a doubt, Clinton went through a brutal beating in the 1990s from Republicans accusing her and her husband of everything under the sun. No doubt privacy is something she came to hold very dear. But with public office, particularly high public office, comes transparency and accountability (at least it should), and if nothing else, by skirting the rules she’s given the appearance of trying to avoid these. For someone who played a minor role in the Nixon Watergate investigations, she should know that paranoid efforts to suppress information can only lead to trouble.
Certainly Clinton has to have been well aware of the Federal Records Act, around since the 1950s, which requires all federal employees to preserve records that contain “informational value” or that document “the transaction of public business” and “the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the government.”
Without the email and server issues, the whole Benghazi investigation would have continued to be seen by many for what it is, a partisan political effort to undermine Clinton due to her presidential aspirations. But she has allowed it to morph into something much more, and given cause for voters to ponder her trustworthiness.
It’s had other effects as well. In no small part, I think it’s contributed to the ascent of Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination. Many Democrats have become wary of Clinton and are seeking what they consider to be an authentic and untarnished voice. Also, sensing vulnerability and a possible opportunity to capitalize on her struggles, Joe Biden will likely make an entrance into the nomination process.
In her favor against both of these candidates is that in a general election either one would have a difficult time winning. Barring her candidacy being consumed by this email scandal, she is still the Democratic Party’s best bet for victory in a general election, despite taking a big hit in terms of trust. With the increasing coarseness and harshness of the political language coming from Republican candidates — particularly due to Trump’s influence — whoever the GOP chooses will have to do some serious fence-mending if they want to get the votes of key demographic groups. For example, there are around 10 million registered Hispanic voters in the U.S., and let’s just say the Republican Party isn’t doing a lot to woo them. The same can be said of women and other minorities.
It’s still a long road to the Democratic Convention, and longer still till the general election. Maybe by then things will have brightened considerably for Hillary Clinton. Hopefully, by then, she will have become her own best friend and no longer be her own worst enemy.