This week, Hillary Clinton broke her almost month-long streak of avoiding the press. After a speech on small businesses in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she took six questions from reporters who have been diligently following her around since she announced her presidential candidacy April 12.
No surprise, the media didn’t clamor for her to flesh out her plan for small businesses. Instead, she found herself parrying queries about her e-mails, the Clinton Foundation and its donors, and her vote to approve the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
What would have been a squirm-inducing moment for any other candidate was for Clinton an occasion to draw on skills tempered in the fires of decades in politics. It provided both a reminder of her past in the hot seat of Whitewater, Monica and other battles and a glimpse of her future campaign strategy: She will swat away any unwanted questions by stonewalling as long as possible and, when that’s no longer viable, by deflecting with responses designed to make the topic seem as boring as rain and her questioners as tedious gnats.
Here’s how she handled a question about the burgeoning scandal involving questionable donations to the Clinton Foundation: “I am so proud of the Foundation,” she said. “I'll let the American people make their own judgments.”
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There’s nothing to see here. Move on.
My boring question: Is Hillary just kidding us or is she also kidding herself? At the very least, she didn’t report the Foundation’s donations from foreign governments, as she promised the president she would when she became secretary of state. At worst, the Foundation took money from some shady characters hoping to put a Clinton gloss on dicey businesses.
But the thin gruel she served up has a strategic purpose: Next time the controversy comes up, she can say: asked and answered, old news. Can we please talk about the important issues the American people care about?
It works, too. The Clintons have an extraordinary ability to thrive amid turmoil that would fell mere mortals. They – and the rest of us – have seen it all before.
Speaking of déjà vu, Sidney Blumenthal, a consigliere from the Clinton White House and Monica Lewinsky scourge, has re- emerged as the author of memos on Libya that Clinton passed on to top State Department aides as urgent reading. So how does he fit now and why was a political operative giving advice on Libya policy? Hillary played the loyalty card: “I have many, many old friends and I always think that it’s important when you get into politics to have friends you had before you were in politics and to understand what’s on their mind.”
But she will wriggle free of all that and whatever else comes her way. In March, Hillary waited eight days to address the missing e-mails, and said no more about it for another month. She was following the first rule of Clintonland: Wait out the first wave of attacks, then say there’s nothing to be concerned about in a frustrated, sing-song voice, as if to a group of kindergartners.
The template was forged when her husband intoned his infamous denial about not having sex with that woman, then left the stage to his enemies for six months, giving them time to self-destruct. Instead of Clinton having to resign for a scandalous dalliance with an intern, Ken Starr looked pruriently overzealous, Republicans viciously partisan, and impeachment a bridge too far.
If boring worked for Monica – Bill Clinton is one of the most popular men on the planet – surely it’s going to work for Hillary’s more mundane, sex-free scandals. She’s had a lot of practice weathering flare-ups: Gennifer Flowers, the embarrassing tax deduction for Bill’s underwear, cattle futures, the pardons, the furnishings taken (and returned) to the White House, nefarious friends with private jets and the list goes on.
There were predictions that Hillary’s poll numbers would plummet after the public learned that thousands of e-mails spanning her tenure at state were destroyed. It didn’t happen. What’s more, with the passage of time, Hillary was able to conflate two separate sets of e-mails into one so that now it’s the darn State Department’s fault if anything’s missing. All she has to do is to keep repeating the answer she gave Tuesday, “I have said repeatedly I want those e-mails out.”
Note the deft use of “repeatedly,” conveying the sense that these questions are getting really tiresome.
We should have known when Hillary announced her candidacy with a supremely boring video that she intended to run the most boring campaign ever. She’s off to a good start.