Hillary Clinton began the week with a “dead broke” problem and ended it with a $600,000 one.
Her less than artful response to Diane Sawyer’s question about her family’s bank account led to a quick course reversal, but not before Twitter did what Twitter does and mocked her with a #HillaryIsSoPoor hashtag. But as quickly as that storyline came and went, another along the same lines blared from the headlines and the Twitterverse: Chelsea Clinton, made $600,000 a year for a special correspondent job at NBC News as reported by POLITICO.
This is not good news for Clinton, who is considering another bid for the White House, with her book tour as a kind of dry run. What happened this week and what will continue to happen over the next few weeks as she sits for interviews and shows up in various cities to sign books and to speak, is a microcosm of what Clinton the candidate will face if she decides to run in 2016.
All of the major themes and issues–from both parties–were on display this week, but for Clinton, it was the wealth issue that caused the most trouble and led her and her team to go on gaffe patrol.
And it underscored the main question that Clinton the candidate would have to answer in 2016: Is Clinton a populist or a lady who lunches?
A version of that question dogged her in 2008, but in the six years since she ran, the populist fervor that has always coursed through her party has only grown, and it is now the dominant sentiment in both parties. See the Virginia race for the Tea Party’s brand of populism.
The discussion of her family’s wealth, estimated at about $50 million, came as Democrats, particularly Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass), touted their “fair shot” plan for student loan borrowers. In her interviews, Clinton has emphasized how hard she and her husband have worked to amass their wealth, and it is difficult to argue that point. And it’s also fair to point out that relative to other first couples, the Clintons entered the White House with very little in the way of family wealth.
But should Clinton run, she will be one of the richest Democrats to run for the White House in recent memory. Democrats have typically run national campaigns with a “soak the rich” theme, portraying their opponents as out of touch with the average voter. It worked against Mitt Romney with his car elevator, John McCain with his seven houses, and Democrats tried it with former president George H. W. Bush, mocking him for being born with a silver foot in his mouth.
The Clinton’s bank account complicates that well-worn strategy. Chelsea Clinton’s salary embodies the kind of passed-down privilege available to a select few, often based on birth rather than merit. Which gets back to Warren, and why her potential candidacy makes some Democrats swoon.
“It’s tough out there, it really is a rigged game. It’s set up over and over and over that the rich get richer and the powerful get more powerful. They have all the advantages of concentrated money and concentrated power,” Warren said in an April interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “All we got on other side is, we’ve got our voices and our votes. And if we get out there and make something out of them, that’s how we make a difference. That’s it.”
The question for both parties as they look for their next standard bearer is who can best channel the rising tide of discontent at the establishment.
Next up for Clinton is more interviews and more scrutiny over that very question.
Her June 17 interview on Fox News with Greta Van Susteren and Bret Baier will likely be heavy on Benghazi, but expect the wealth question to come up as well.
That same day a CNN town hall will air, and viewers from all over will get to join the discussion. It will be Clinton’s most high profile interaction with regular people’s questions and problems, providing an opportunity, yet more challenges, as she tries to communicate that she’s still in touch with every day folks. She would do well to watch that 1992 debate between her husband, then-president George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.
Voters don’t expect their candidates to be poor. In fact, there is an aspirational aspect to voting. But they do expect some perspective. So Clinton would do well to study up on how her husband answered that question in 1992, and make sure she knows the price of a gallon of gas, a dozen eggs, and a jug of milk.