Tonight we’ll get the full interview with Diane Sawyer, but from the snippets released to date it does not appear that Sawyer threw softballs at Hillary Clinton. The surprise here is that Clinton seemed defensive, caught off guard for what should have been obvious questions.
On Benghazi, Clinton was pushed to acknowledge specific mistakes she made. Her excuse about not being experienced enough on “blueprints” was lame and reminds us that working off the cuff isn’t her strong suit.
Likewise, her excuse that she had to give speeches for six-figure fees because they were broke simply makes no sense. When she left the White House, Bill Clinton had already made a mint. Moreover, the books that they each released also made them rich. Why, now, is she still raking in big speaking fees from some entities like hedge funds that she would have to deal with if she made it to the White House?
Her answers are a bit rough and her voice becomes tight when challenged, but it’s not fair to assess her performance without the entire airing. Tonight and in the oodles of interviews ahead she’ll get her first real scrutiny as a candidate in years.
If you look at her challenges for 2016, they seem to fall into a few categories:
1. How will she accept (or not) responsibility for foreign policy failures including Benghazi, Russian reset and the rocky relationship with Israel? She is trying to dance between defending the president and separating herself from the flubs, but she can’t appear to be a slippery pol who ducks responsibility.
2. Will Clinton’s wealth, hobnobbing with the wealthy and well-connected play into the GOP’s attack on cronyism and Beltway insiders? how will voters regard her decision to pursue speaking fees instead of spending time doing charity work like the Carters or Bushes?
3. Does Clinton have ideas of her own that are not retreads of shopworn liberal ideas and that will both satisfy her base and allow her to win over independents? Lacking a real primary, she will have to face the wide electorate almost immediately. That means she will need to decide fairly soon if she, for example, is going to stick with anti-energy production elites or play to the blue-collar base on issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline.
4. Does Clinton have the poise, charm and thick skin to win over skeptics and stand up to tough questions and Republican attacks without appearing testy?
We will get some clues on these tonight, but we are zillions of news cycles from 2016. What Clinton says today — unless truly egregious — is not likely to be remembered in 2016. That doesn’t mean, of course, that political junkies won’t be hanging on every word and every frame of body language. In a real sense, the 2016 presidential race starts tonight.