You know something is different when the New York Times compares Jeb Bush favorably to Hillary Clinton and praises the ex-Florida governor’s retail politicking skills (“open, available and engaging”). Clinton’s inability to interact candidly with the press and voters on a regular basis is not going unnoticed.
In Iowa: “Mindful of her defeat by Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton has embraced a new strategy — one that so far does not include town-hall meetings and campaign rallies, media interviews, even public events. Instead, she holds small controlled events with a handful of potential voters in homes, businesses and schools. She repeats many of the same lines (‘I want to be your champion’ is a favorite), participants are handpicked by her staff or the event host, and topics are dictated by her campaign.”
It is the same story in New Hampshire, according to the Boston Globe: “Clinton’s campaign hasn’t held a single event open to the general public since it launched five weeks ago, and there are no plans for an open forum in New Hampshire Friday when she makes her second trip to the Granite State. This arm’s-length distance between voters and candidates might be how politics works elsewhere, but not in the first-in-the-nation-primary state. New Hampshire residents hold dear a tradition of meeting would-be presidents face to face.” Even her team’s news-less conference calls get blasted.
It is not clear why exactly she is doing this. Maybe she is afraid of being asked about scandals? Maybe she doesn’t want to make more mistakes, as she did routinely on her book tour. Or perhaps it is because she doesn’t have to. For now she has no real competition, so why risk having something go wrong?
The dangers here are obvious. She feeds the narrative that she has an entitlement surplus, that she has disdain for public disclosure and that she has nothing to say. Moreover, she is not getting practice in skills she will need when going up against the GOP nominee. She can’t very well concede all on-the-ground voter interaction to the GOP nominee, nor can she send a surrogate to the debates. And finally, it is never a good idea to annoy voters or to treat the press with contempt. (The MSM, for once, seem inspired to go after her misconduct.)
To understand Clinton’s non-campaigning campaigning, it’s helpful to look at her e-mail escapade. Plainly she and whoever else resides in her inner circle (Sid Blumenthal? Huma Abedin? James Carville?) knew it would look awful if a presidential candidate destroyed documents germane to a congressional investigation. But decisions are never made in a vacuum. They must have figured the downside of letting those “private” e-mails see the light of day was so serious that destroying evidence became the preferred course of action.
In the same regard, not campaigning at least for now is bad, but apparently the Clinton brain trust figures letting her campaign is so much worse than what would follow if she had to speak off the cuff. And that is precisely why minor challengers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley have an opening. They can go where she cannot; they can plop down in early states and interact with voters and media 24/7. The press has nothing to report of significance about Clinton, so longshots get a disproportionate amount of free media. And then come the debates, when they are all on a stage together. Early primary states are great levelers in exactly these circumstances. A small number of voters can enact revenge if they feel like they are being given the bum’s rush.
Does this mean Clinton is in some kind of peril? No, but things are bad enough for her to stage a do-over kick-off event June 13. It will be a big, scripted rally, so it’s not like she’s going to kick her stage-management habit. But if things were going well, do we think she’d have to kick off a campaign a second time?