Hillary Clinton still doesn’t get it.
“I often feel there’s the Hillary standard and then there’s the standard for everybody else,” she said in Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” interview, with her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, beside her.
If there’s a “Hillary standard,” it’s because she created it through years of well-documented truth-fudging, as recounted recently in Politico. And she has done nothing since to change people’s minds about it.
I keep waiting for the moment when Clinton looks the American people in the eye, acknowledges the trust deficit, tells them she understands why people doubt her, and promises to prove the doubters wrong if she wins the White House. But to honestly admit an honesty problem? That’s my fantasy, not Clinton campaign strategy.
The closest she will come is what she also said on “60 Minutes”: “I will take responsibility for any impression or anything I’ve ever done that people have legitimate questions about.” But she also went on to mention the “concerted effort” to undermine her honesty, raising memories of her past charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to undermine Bill Clinton when he was president.
Bill, like Hillary, allowed enemies to carry out their conspiracy by handing them a weapon of self-destruction. He survived, thanks to his political skills and freshness at the time on the political stage. She has neither.
Clinton backers believe Trump’s pronouncements are so scary and his world view so pessimistic, that she can beat him on substance, policy, and hope. Besides, Trump has big trust and honesty problems too. So, the thinking goes, Clinton should just double down like Trump and act like they are on equal footing when it comes to trust.
That ignores political reality, and the double standard that does exist – for Trump. He’s the candidate who gets away with lies, distortions, and enormous flip-flops. Meanwhile, he accepts his party’s nomination with a speech in which he declares, “We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.”
In Cleveland, Republicans painted a dark picture of America and an even darker picture of “Crooked Hillary,” portraying the former secretary of state as a lying, corrupt, self-serving politician with no redeeming qualities. By Cleveland’s end, FBI Director James Comey got to have it both ways. He didn’t indict Clinton for setting up a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. But the statement he made to the public, which he acknowledged as “unusual,” gave Republicans more than enough rope to reel her in.
Comey’s conclusion that she was “extremely careless” in handling her e-mail, and his detailing of deleted e-mail that turned out to be classified, led to joyous chants of “Lock her up!” in Cleveland. On “60 Minutes,” Clinton said the mob mentality in Cleveland was “regrettable” — and it is, especially for her. She set up the e-mail server and then wasted time changing her story about how she handled her e-mail and why. Now she comes to Philadelphia, and an embarrassing story of hacked e-mail from the Democratic National Committee has eclipsed the convention launch. Yet somehow, substance and policy in Philadelphia are supposed to wash away Cleveland’s mud.
Maybe it could, if voters focused solely on that. But their view of Clinton is already shaped by Cleveland, plus years of rapt Republican attention to other Clinton scandals, which also involve trust. Trump is not going to let up on it. The Republican National Committee released a “Hillary baggage” video as delegates arrived in Philadelphia, with labels on suitcases noting “scandals” relating to foreign contributions, the Clinton Foundation and, of course, the e-mail server. It didn’t even bother with scandals from Bill Clinton’s presidency — just what happened on Hillary Clinton’s watch.
If she doesn’t get how much that hurts — she should.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.