While Donald Trump was arguing with the family of a slain Gold Star, Muslim-American Army Captain on Twitter, Hillary Clinton was quietly on her way to Omaha, where she made no news at all.
It was early Monday morning, and what lay ahead for the Republican nominee was a busy 96 hours of making what would be, for any normal politician, the wrong kind of headlines. Something different and unexpected was on the horizon for Clinton, however: near-radio silence that lasted through Friday afternoon, a master class in abiding by the maxim attributed to Napoleon: never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself.
But then she ruined it.
Over the course of four days, almost the entire work-week beginning August 1, hardly an hour passed by without Trump saying something outrageousm saying something false, or publicly suffering the consequences for both.
Against all advice, he continued his impolite back and forth with the Khan family. He called Clinton “the devil.” He kicked an infant out of his rally for crying. He refused to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Republican nominee John McCain in their reelection bids. He claimed to have seen “secret” video footage of the U.S. giving Iran $400 million even though no such footage exists. He accepted a Purple Heart from a supporter and then, in true draft-dodger fashion, joked that it was easier to have received it as a gift than the traditional way.
“Insiders” of his campaign leaked news to the press that morale was at an all-time low and yet more insiders claimed an intervention, attended by Newt Gingrich, Reince Priebus and Rudy Giuliani, was underway to save Trump from himself. His allies, including Gingrich and Ed Rollins, took to the media to criticize him. Gingrich went as far as to say that Clinton was the more acceptable candidate—and he wasn’t the only Republican to feel that way. Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, New York Congressman Richard Hanna, and onetime senior Chris Christie aide Maria Comella all came out to pledge their votes to the Democrat. Whitman even promised to donate to and raise money for her campaign.
Meanwhile, Clinton hardly made a peep.
She sent a couple Tweets, none of them much to write home about. Her campaign informed reporters on Tuesday that in the month of July, she’d raised “about $90 million” for herself and the Democratic Party. She brought Warren Buffett with her to Omaha, his hometown, where he said he’d love to compare tax returns with Trump. And then she traveled to Las Vegas, where the only thing to draw much notice at her rally was the presence of a punchy animal-rights activist who tried to rush the stage, prompting a small cavalry of Secret Service agents to surround the candidate.
“Hillary has quietly and effectively abetted Trump’s self-destruction,” former Bill Clinton adviser, Paul Begala, told The Daily Beast.
“Perhaps her most important line at the convention was, ‘A man you can bait with a Tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,’” Begala said. “And then Trump rose to the bait. He is a largemouth bass, striking more out of aggression than self-interest. He hit the largest, shiniest thing in the water—in this case a Gold Star family. Hillary kept the heat on by rolling out endorsements from Republicans.”
Begala added, “I think she knows exactly what she’s doing. This is not the week to roll out a 12-point plan on child care. This is the week to toss Trump an anvil.”
And then came Friday afternoon.
As she wrapped up her prepared remarks to the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Joint Conference in Washington, D.C, Clinton stood in front of a room of reporters and encouraged them not to pull any punches on either side of the race.
“So I hope you’ll keep calling it like you see it,” she said, insincerely. “Keep holding all of us accountable.”
And then, they did.
“This week you told two separate news organizations that FBI Director James Comey said, quote, ‘My answers were truthful, and that what I said is consistent with what I have told the American people,’” NBC’s Kristen Welker began. “That assertion, as you know, has been debunked by multiple news organizations …so my question for you is, are you mischaracterizing Director Comey’s testimony? And is this not undercutting your efforts to rebuild trust with the American people?”
Clinton first repeated her acknowledgement that “using two e-mail accounts was a mistake” and then repeated the same lie she told Fox News’ Chris Wallace last week in a Fox News Sunday interview.
“And I have said on—during the interview and in many other occasions over the past months, that what I told the FBI—which he said was truthful—is consistent with what I have said publicly,” she said.
Welker was undeterred.
“Is the one inconsistency, though, that you said you never sent or received classified material, and he did say there were three e-mails, that were marked classified at the time,” she pressed. “Is that an inconsistency?”
Clinton then launched into a 337-word, rambling verbal Rubix Cube of an explanation that not only reiterated her false assertion that she didn’t tell the FBI a different story than the one she told the public, but in doing so she also reminded anyone watching why voters are having trouble trusting Hillary Clinton.
“But Director Comey said there was absolutely no intention, on my part, to either ignore or in any way dismiss the importance of those documents because they weren’t marked “classified,” so that would have hard to do and I will go back to where I started,” she finished. “I regret using one account, I’ve taken responsibility for that but I’m pleased to be able to clarify and explain what I think the bottom line is on this.”
But it wasn’t over. Welker’s question was followed by a reminder from The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe that the Democratic nominee has been basically allergic to open press conferences, and encouraged her to have more—particularly for the travelling press that follow her from coast to coast.
Then he asked her how she can lead a nation that doesn’t like or trust her (or Trump, for that matter).
Clinton’s avoidance of free-wheeling press conferences has not only made her rusty at answering challenging questions, but has also had the added side effect of making the rare Q&A’s into showdowns.
Her insistence on repeating the same debunked excuses drew an unfortunate comparison with the man she’s running against.
Sure, Trump tends to get hung up on crazy conspiracy theories and personal beefs, but the result is the same—a distraction.
In the year of the outsider, Clinton’s political sophistication can sometimes seem like a flaw.
But that same sophistication plays differently now that the primaries are over. As Clinton sat back and watched Trump flail in the wind this week, the biggest stories about her in the press were about her rising poll numbers. Nationally, according to the Real Clear Politics average—which, as of press time, factored the polls before and including August 4th—she leads him by 6.8 percentage points. In some individual national polls, she’s up even higher.
In July, when Trump was handed an opportunity to let Clinton flail after FBI Director James Comey called her handling of classified information while Secretary of State “extremely careless,” he didn’t take it.
Instead, he obsessively defended his decision to send a Tweet with what was widely interpreted to be an anti-Semitic use of the Star of David, deflecting attention from Clinton’s considerable screw-up and prematurely ending what should have been at least a week of negative attention for her campaign.
Next to these kind of antics, it’s easy for Clinton to appear politically sophisticated, of course.
But if Friday is any indication, Clinton can often be her own worst enemy.