How can something that is such a sure thing seem so shaky? That’s the question that many supporters of Hillary Clinton are wondering this week as reports about her exclusive use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state prove to be the latest indication of her bad political judgment. Though many Democrats insist that there’s nothing to this story, others speaking off the record to journalist are less sanguine and admit that this just the latest evidence that shows that her apparent coronation as Democratic presidential nominee is only partially obscuring her genuine shortcomings as a candidate. Though Clinton’s loyalists are bravely, if somewhat inadequately, defending her, the email story looks to have legs. The real question many in the part are asking today is whether the former First Lady’s current troubles will be enough to tempt Senator Elizabeth Warren to jump into the 2016 presidential race.
There are some reasons for the Clinton camp to be confident that nothing in the story about her emails will stop Democrats from nominating her for president. The Clintons have always operated under different rules than lesser political mortals and they and their fans probably think there’s nothing to this issue that should cause Democrats to treat them differently than in the past. But the willingness of the New York Times, the flagship of the liberal mainstream media establishment to run with this story rather than treating it as just another minor sidebar generated by Republicans investigating the Benghazi attacks was an indication that Hillary could not count on getting a pass.
Nor did the story die after a day as Clinton’s camp hoped it would because there was more to it. The revelation that Clinton not only refrained from using a government (and therefore relatively secure) email address but used one whose server was located in her home is even more egregious than one would have thought. That raises questions about whether she violated government regulations instituted in 2009. Though much correspondence was subsequently handed over to the government, the decision as to what was public and what private was made by Clinton’s staff leaving open the possibility that anything that might prove embarrassing or troubling — such as Clinton’s knowledge or encouragement for efforts by her husband to raise money from foreign governments for their family foundation — was either erased or held back from archivists or the State Department.
Some Democrats are claiming that conservative critics complaining about Clinton’s emails are hypocrites because various Republican governors have been hounded about some of their own emails. That’s a fair point but only to a point. Anyone running for president is going to have to be transparent about their official conduct, an issue that Jeb Bush got in front of when he released his emails from his time as governor of Florida. But none of those Republicans were in charge of U.S. foreign policy while their spouse was shaking down foreigners for contributions to their family foundation.
Even more to the point, it is important to play the substitution game. Imagine the reaction from Democrats if highly placed figures in a Republican administration were accused of doing far less than what Clinton has done when it comes to emails. Substitute the words Dick Cheney for Hillary Clinton and just imagine the same liberals telling us there’s nothing to see and that this is mere Republican lunacy about Benghazi as their heads explode.
But actually we don’t have to use our imaginations. We can just find the video of Hillary Clinton speaking in June 2007 about accusations about Republicans like Karl Rove using private email accounts some of the time while working in the White House. Rove wasn’t violating any federal regulations as Clinton did but that didn’t stop the then junior senator from New York from decrying those in her sights of “shredding the Constitution” and engaging in corrupt activities.
Nor will this story go away. There’s plenty of exposure for everyone involved here who didn’t follow the rules. But with news organizations like the Associated Press that have already filed Freedom of Information lawsuits to find out what Clinton has been up to now discovering that there is a lot of data it wanted that the government doesn’t have, the fate of those emails that were not given to the State Department could haunt Clinton.
But none of this bothers Democrats as much as the perception that Clinton and her staff were unprepared for this latest land mine in her path and have no clue about defusing it. Though the Clinton political machine is a formidable entity, she currently lacks the kind of staff with the ability to respond immediately to problems. Instead, they bumble around for days doing little to make things better for their candidate. Clinton’s own public statements have also been entirely inadequate. Merely saying that she wants the public to have access to her emails does little to reassure since she didn’t promise to take any steps that would ensure that these communications will be brought forward or that the process by which private emails will be sorted from the official ones will be supervised by anyone but her personal minions.
As with her gaffe-ridden book tour last year, Clinton has done nothing to make it appear that she has acquired the political skills needed to weather a competitive presidential campaign. With no serious Democratic opposition in sight that means she will head into the general election next year with full coffers but unready to mix it up with what might be a strong GOP opponent. At this point the fact that she has no opposition worth the name inside her party starts to look less like a huge advantage and more like a liability.
Will this tempt Warren to run against her? If she has any interest in running for president — a question to which we don’t know the answer — it ought to. At worst, the email story is the sort of thing that will feed cynicism about Clinton among ordinary voters as well as the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. At best, it shows she has poor political judgment ad lacks the ability to comprehend and deal with problems. Either way, this train wreck makes for a poor presidential candidate and an even worse president. The former should scare Democrats who want to win in 2016. The latter should scare all Americans.