Her Way

Hillary Plays the Victim in CNN Interview

She may be the front-runner in the presidential race, but Clinton still comes across as guarded, quibbling, and poker-faced under the TV lights.

07.08.15 12:10 AM ET

Any Clinton supporters who hoped that a New Hillary would emerge from Tuesday’s televised grilling of the Democratic presidential front-runner had to be brutally disillusioned.

The Hillary Clinton who showed up for her 19-minute back and forth with CNN political correspondent Brianna Keilar—touted as Clinton’s first one-on-one interview with a national reporter since she declared her candidacy three months ago—was the same Hillary Clinton the country has come to know over nearly a quarter-century on the American political scene.

Advertised by her associates as warm and funny in private, she came across as guarded, quibbling, and pokerfaced under the TV lights.

While her chief Democratic rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—an unvarnished liberal who self-identifies as a Socialist—has been exciting huge crowds of thousands of voters in the nation’s first caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton looked and sounded cagey and defensive, when her apparent goal is to inspire.

One had to wonder: How could this stingy and cautious performance even come close to advancing that goal?

The candidate was, by turns, self-justifying and pugnacious, and occasionally just plain inauthentic, as she complained about her and her husband’s victimization by right-wingers and scandalous book authors—the correct people to blame, in her view, for the fact that six out of 10 voters don’t consider her “honest and trustworthy,” according to a recent CNN poll.

“I can only say, this has been a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many, many years,” Clinton said—perhaps unwittingly evoking her long-ago claim that the Monica Lewinsky scandal was the result of a vast right-wing conspiracy. “At the end of the day, I think voters sort it all out…I trust the American voters.”

She added emphatically—desperately?—“People should and do trust me.”

Whatever is causing public opinion surveys to indicate otherwise is illegitimate. She cited “books filled with unsubstantiated attacks against us, and they admit they have no evidence.”

And Clinton once again trotted out her creakily baroque defense of the private email server she used as secretary of state (in apparent contravention of Obama administration regulations), and the massive deletions she ordered upon leaving office.

Widening her eyes and nodding at times like a bobblehead doll—occasionally emitting a percussive laugh—Clinton dodged one policy question after another, pretended Sanders barely exists, and proclaimed her “total respect” for the pesky press—the same press that her campaign aides actually lassoed with ropes in the middle of a New Hampshire street to keep them away during a July 4th parade.

“I’m not running my campaign for the press. I’m running it for voters,” Clinton explained to Keilar, an edge to her voice. That at least sounded truthful. But then Clinton added, with apparent insincerity: “I totally respect the press, and what the press has to do.”

(What “the press has to do,” in Clinton-speak, is not to serve as an information resource for the voters she wants to reach, but instead to pepper her with one-sided, irrelevant and exasperating queries that have nothing to do with the will of the people.)

Clinton begged off from revealing if she favors Sanders’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations—saying she isn’t going to be addressing that issue until a scheduled speech on the economy next Monday.

Beyond twitting the Republican candidates, especially her onetime friend and Senate campaign contributor Donald Trump, for their hostility to immigration reform and a path to citizenship, she had little to say about what she wants to do if elected president, instead taking refuge in processed answers about process.

She bragged about her campaign organization in Iowa, claiming an ardent supporter in each of the state’s 1,600 precincts.

One of the few times Clinton took a firm stand—under Keilar’s tough but eminently fair interrogation—was to support the proposal for a woman’s face on U.S. currency, although she couldn’t quite bring herself to say whether she believes it should be on the $10 bill or the $20 bill.

“I want a woman on the bill,” she stoutly declared. “And I don’t like the idea that’s a compromise…and basically have two people on the bill…That sounds pretty second-class to me.”

On the other hand, in the designated “light” section at the end of the interview, Clinton refused to say whether she prefers Amy Poehler or Kate McKinnon as her Saturday Night Live doppelganger.

“I think I’m the best Hillary Clinton,” she said. “I’m just gonna be my own little self and keep going along and saying what I believe…I’m not looking for ratings. I’m looking for votes.”