After running a stealth campaign that largely insulated her from annoying questions from the national press, Hillary Clinton is finally breaking her silence today with an interview on CNN. While her apologists are presenting this as a carefully calculated slow roll out of her presidential effort, Clinton’s decision to surface at this moment betrays a hint of something that might be described as concern, if not yet panic. With Senator Bernie Sanders exciting the Democratic base, attracting large crowds and polls demonstrating that he might be able to compete in New Hampshire and Iowa, the Clinton coronation may not be as certain as everybody assumed. If nothing else, the Sanders surge is drawing Clinton out into the open. The Sanders factor may create the kind of pressure that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to avoid taking stands on controversial issues. Though her camp is counting on the former secretary of state being able to handle this challenge, if she does prove unable to answer questions without flubbing or fibbing as she has so frequently in the past two years, the former first lady may be in more trouble than she or even her sternest critics believed.
The assumption in the Clinton camp is that their candidate is their best asset. Love her or hate her, Clinton is a smart woman with decades of experience in politics as well as a deft command of the issues after having spent so much time at the center of power in Washington. But the instinct to play it safe that dictated her refusal to take a side in the debate over a trade bill that she championed while secretary of state hasn’t been as smart a play as she thought. It exposed her to abuse from Sanders and other Democratic challengers and has caused even some of her supporters to wince as her designated surrogates on cable news shows dodged and weaved in a vain effort to convince Americans that Clinton wasn’t a flip-flopping Washington politician determined to say only what she thought people wanted to hear.
The net effect of her freezing out the press in which she not only refused to answer questions but literally roped them off from access to Clinton did nothing to instill confidence in her ability to avoid gaffes. On the plus side, after bombing on her 2014 book tour and then doing equally poorly in her attempt to silence questions about her email and Clinton Foundation scandals, expectations are so low for Clinton that anything short of an on-camera meltdown will be interpreted as a victory by her supporters. But the problem here goes deeper than whether or not she makes a fool of herself with new versions of gaffes like her claim that she was broke when she left the White House or claims that corporations don’t create jobs.
Once Hillary is in the crosshairs of serious journalists, she will be forced to come up with answers about her lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, email hijinks, Benghazi and the family charity that operates as a thinly-veiled political slush fund. Just as important, Clinton is going to have to do something more than prevaricate when asked about trade or even the deplorable Iran nuclear, especially as she seeks to portray herself as a better friend to Israel than President Obama.
There are opportunities here for her campaign but her camp’s reluctance to allow the press anywhere near her demonstrates that they know that every time she opens her mouth during the coming year, there is a chance something deeply embarrassing may come out of it. Even worse, if she wanders away from the left-wing talking points she’s been trotting out in an effort to show her party’s base that she is as liberal as Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren, there is a chance that the Sanders boomlet will become a genuine threat to her being nominated rather than just an annoyance.
With a huge financial advantage and most Democratic officeholders and party officials rightly fearful of the wrath of the Clinton attack machine, the odds are still overwhelmingly in her favor against Sanders or any other Democrat. But just as Clinton’s problems and her lack of authenticity helped create the Sanders campaign as a viable entity, so, too, does the possibility of further gaffes promise to make the coming months just as miserable for Hillary. In the last few months, all Sanders and other Democratic rivals wanted was to get her out in the open. That is now about to happen. The jury is still out as to whether that will be just a bump in the road for Hillary or just the start of another presidential nightmare for her.