Fred, it was surely inevitable that Hillary Clinton would have a bad week or two — all candidates do, and she didn’t have even a bad day before her debate appearance two weeks ago, not even with the fundraising scandal swirling around her campaign’s relationship to Norman Hsu. But how bad were these weeks, really?
In one respect, she was weirdly lucky. Her refusal to say that illegal aliens should not receive drivers’ licenses could have had an extraordinarily deleterious impact on her campaign — if she had said it nine or ten months from now at a point at which she would already be the Democratic nominee for president. A Republican challenger could have taken the remark and used it against her in a hundred different ways, none of them good for her. But since she said it in October 2007 and to a very small audience, it won’t have anywhere near the same effectiveness as a weapon against her. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but that can’t be said of negative campaigning.
She may also have been weirdly lucky in that she got into trouble now rather than in December or January. She didn’t get this bad press in the same month as the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, which is what happened with Howard Dean’s meltdown. The media have taken the tale of her woes and used it as a crowbar to pry open the Democratic race to Barack Obama (and, to a lesser extent, John Edwards) with tiny bits of data to bolster the case (a few polls in Iowa showing a three-way tie, which is actually nothing new, and a tightening in New Hampshire down to a dozen points, which still gives her blowout numbers).
But really, the race is still entirely about Hillary and Hillary alone — it’s not about Obama and Edwards in any way except as counterweights to her. Should that persist, she will still win the nomination going away because she will remain the focal point of the election and will seem like a larger and more formidable figure than her rivals because of it.
And the media are fickle. If Mrs. Clinton turns in a good performance in the upcoming candidate debate on Thursday night, the storyline will inevitably change to “Hillary’s Comeback.” Even though she never really left.