Stop a random person on the street, ask them to describe Hillary Clinton's biggest problem as a candidate, and a list that is almost certain to include the following will emerge.
- Her emails
- Her husband and/or the content of her many defenses thereof
- The millions in speaking fees she collected from Wall Street firms
And despite the predictability of all of these issues, she often responds to questions and critiques of them in precisely the wrong way.
Many times, it seems that Clinton makes them worse -- even far worse. Clinton has, since almost the start of her 2016 presidential campaign, demonstrated a remarkable capacity to escalate rather than effectively address or resolve any question, critique or challenge if the matter at issue is about her.
On Thursday night, during the final Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary, Clinton managed to give a series of responses to questions about those multi-hundred-thousand-dollar Wall Street speaking fees which were so muddled, so non-specific and defensive that Clinton's speeches and the money she made from them appear to be one of the stories out of the debate that will fill this weekend's headlines.
Worse than that, Clinton all but dared her competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), to level an explicit attack about her ties to Wall Street. She seemed to imply that Sanders, who maintains a steady lead over Clinton in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, had not done so before. Sanders then met and raised Clinton's apparent bluff, putting her in a position she, for some reason, seemed not to have fully anticipated.
Clinton found herself answering questions and offering notably oblique information about her speaking fees and votes. Then, she mentioned that she's the most-questioned, -attacked and generally -put-upon candidate in politics today.
"I don't think you could find any person in political life today who has been subjected to more attacks and had more money spent against her by special interests ... than I," Clinton said.
She started all over again after a commercial break and a moderator question about the same issues. This time, she added that she "may" not have done a good job explaining her record in the past, and then pivoted to the other people -- former government officials, journalists and others -- who also collect speaker's fees.
None of it put the issue to rest or even close to it. And it all hearkened back to her repeated struggles with the private email server she used as secretary of state, which still continue to dog her.
It all begs the question: Given Clinton's long, varied experiences in public life, why do these sorts of questions continue to present such a problem?
Clinton is a trained lawyer who may be a bit too primed to argue and a bit behind on her conciliation and mediation skills. She is also a long-time public figure, a former senator, one-time Cabinet official and wife of a former president to whom she served as an adviser through many controversies and scandals.
She often responds to questions as if she lives in a fear that another issue could present itself at any time.
Clinton and her most ardent supporters also seem to believe that just about any question or critique of her choices, her votes, her finances, her foundation and so on and so forth is always unfair. They are always not the kind that would be put to anyone else and sometimes part of some kind of "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Of course, as Clinton noted, not many people have experienced what Clinton has in public life over the last three decades. And perhaps this is also part of her problem -- if not the problem. Clinton and her team can't quite seem to find a person or public figure with a similar profile, who has won similar battles.
Even if we grant that, though, many people in the same situation would at some point recognize that what they are doing was not working. They might examine what's happened before, hunt for patterns and try to better understand how what they have said has been received by other thinking human beings who are not in their employ or deep political debt.
They would, for lack of a better term, study the game tape.
And, finally, there is this: Wall Street ranks among the American institutions which generates bipartisan voter suspicion. Honesty and fair play are not regarded as central parts of the financial district's story.
Wall Street priorities are the only explanations many people have received when they found themselves the victim of a tidy-sounding "reductions in forces" and out of a job. Wall Street got bailed out in the financial crisis, while millions of Americans lost their homes. These are people who have every reason to worry that all of the above could happen again if the loyalties of the nation's lawmakers belong to Wall Street.
At this point, perhaps there is simply no palatable explanation for Clinton -- no way to make those fees or her claims that she remains utterly un-bought and un-compromised by them seem plausible.
In much the same way that Clinton has had to acknowledge that her private server may not have been the wisest choice, she may need to say the same about her Wall Street speeches.