Has any future president been more misunderstood than Hillary Clinton?
As someone who cannot imagine any possible scenario in which I would cast a ballot for the former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, First Lady, and Goldwater Girl, I note this with a heavy heart. But Clinton’s deafening and widely criticized silence since announcing her candidacy isn’t a weakness or a failing on her part. It underscores exactly the professionalism, strategizing, and discipline that explain why she is atop the polls.
She has nothing to gain and everything to lose from shooting off her mouth for at least the rest of the year. Like an aging boxer who survives more by smarts than by slugging, Clinton knows that the fight for the White House is a 15-round bout that will certainly go the distance. Only a showboating chump would punch themselves out in the early rounds.
Sure, over the past few weeks, she’s lost some ground among Democratic voters to socialist Bernie Sanders. But she’s still ahead of him, not to mention the ever-growing gaggle of Republican rivals. Sure, ever since announcing she was running for president, Clinton has stayed awfully quiet, popping up in Chipotle surveillance camera footage like Patty Hearst on the lam and eschewing actual public events for “intimate” meetings with vetted, handpicked supporters.
On the rare occasions when she does step out of her bubble, things have gotten hinky, like when she literally roped off the press during a Fourth of July parade in New Hampshire. The optics of that scene—photogs and journos being physically restrained from getting close enough to her highness to take good pics or ask embarrassing queries—would be shame-inducing if not suicide-inducing to most candidates.
But do we need to spell it out, really? Hillary Clinton is not most candidates.
She’s learned from the acknowledged master—husband Bill, who can’t even be bothered to flatly promise not to give paid speeches if he becomes First Dude—that there’s never a reason to give in to common decency and slink off into the dark night of political oblivion. Hillary Clinton hasn’t driven a car since 1996 and it’s a safe bet that she hasn’t felt shame for even longer.
Since announcing for president, Clinton has granted exactly one televsion interview, with CNN’s Brianna Keilar, and smartly used the occasion to attack the Republican field for their weak-tea responses to Donald Trump’s muy stupido assertion that Mexican immigrants are mostly rapists. Indicating that she was “disappointed” (read: elated) “in those comments,” Clinton went on to note that her Republican rivals “are all in the same general area on immigration.”
The worst part of that? She’s absolutely right. Once the party of near-open borders (watch this video from 1980 in which Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush one up each other on praising the contributions of illegal immigrants), today’s GOP, with minor exceptions, vilifies the wretched yearning to breathe free, at least when they come from Latin America.
In 2004, George Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Eight years later, Mitt Romney—who counseled that illegal immigrants should practice “self-deportation”—pulled just 27 percent. In the GOP “autopsy” of Romney’s failure in 2012, the authors wrote, “If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence.” Given the way that the current candidates have been non-reacting to Trump, that might be the best outcome the Republican Party could hope for.
Against such a backdrop, Clinton is right to keep mum, except when making easy layups against her opponents. Let Bernie Sanders whip Democrats into a progressive frenzy and then step in with vague nods toward equality and growth for all. She knows full well that Sanders is not her real rival—that will be the GOP nominee, not a frothing-at-the-mouth socialist from a state with a population smaller than Washington, D.C.’s.
She also knows as well as anyone that her toughest challenge will be sweetening the air of inevitability that surrounds her like noxious secondhand smoke. No one outside of their immediate families wants to see a Clinton-Bush contest, but such a showdown is more likely than not. She may indeed be as “arrogant” as Commentary and a thousand other similar publications contend, but she’s likely smart enough to realize that nothing humanizes her more than right-wing outlets foaming at the mouth about everything from blowjobs to Benghazi.
This is not to say that she’s a perfect candidate. In fact, the roping off of journalists—on a day celebrating independence, no less!—suggests Hillary Clinton is in many ways singularly off-putting. Her feminist bona fides were rightly called into question during her time as First Lady, her time as senator from New York was unmemorable, and her tenure as secretary of state nothing short of disastrous. When under attack, she’s capable of mind-bogglingly stupid comments, like when she started talking about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination during the end days of her 2008 run for the Democratic nomination.
This is why she is smart to be running a rope-a-dope strategy, essentially letting her opponents (Democratic and Republican) punch themselves out in the early rounds. When they’ve taken their best shots and mostly exhausted themselves, she can come off the ropes and throw a haymaker or two. Along with forgoing shame, this is another great tactical advantage she’s learned from her husband.
Bill Clinton outlasted his opponents—think Newt Gingrich and a gaggle of moralistic congressmen, many of whom had skeletons of their own to hide. Bill was like Muhammad Ali taking on George Foreman in the jungle heat, a personable motormouth who loved to talk and press the flesh (sometimes a bit too much, to be sure). Hillary is turning into a defensive master, but on her own terms. She’s more like Floyd Mayweather, nobody’s idea of a fun person to hang out with, but capable of taking huge amounts of punishment and coming off the ropes in the late rounds to secure victory.
If the eventual Republican nominee—whether it’s Jeb Bush or Rand Paul or god help us all Donald Trump—wants a real chance at the crown, they’d do best to back away from Hillary and the anger-bear rhetoric that only makes her more sympathetic. The nominee would do well to outline an actually positive and inclusive message about how they plan to guide the country into the 21st century rather than constantly harp on last century’s scandals, the need for even newer and bigger wars, and protecting us from the scourge of immigrants so desperate for a better life that they’re willing to risk arrest to come to America.
A Republican employing positive rhetoric—which is exactly how Barack Obama toppled Clinton in 2008—would pull her out of her crouch and cause her to swing recklessly and wildly. In all that lunging, she’d be likely to knock herself out. But so long as the Republicans keep smacking themselves in the face, she’s smart to hold her punches.