Hillary Clinton swung and missed earlier this week when asked to respond to a highly critical State Department inspector general's report regarding her decision to exclusively use a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
Her initial response, delivered in an interview Wednesday with Univision's Marie Elena Salinas, was robotic and rotely defensive — not to mention inaccurate on several points.
To her credit, Clinton (and her team) realized that what she had said wasn't enough. So she set about trying to fix it. She called in to Chuck Todd's "Meet the Press Daily" on Thursday and offered this up:
I said this many times, it was still a mistake. If I could go back, I would do it differently. And I understand people have concerns about this, but I hope and expect voters to look at the full picture of everything I've done and stand for. And the full threat posed by Donald Trump. If they do, I have faith in the American people that they will make the right choice.
Why is this so much better than Clinton's answer to Univision? Let's count the ways:
1. She says she made a mistake: Every time Clinton talks about her email issues — particularly in light of the State Department IG report — she should make sure to include the phrase "I have acknowledged and continue to believe this was a mistake." Even if she doesn't believe that — and it's virtually impossible to know whether she does — saying it disarms people. It shows them that she gets it — that she "would do it differently" if she could go back. Contrition in politics is a very good thing. It can buy you tons of goodwill. And Clinton needs that.
2. She doesn't dismiss people's concerns, but adds context: Aside from using the word "mistake" the best/most important thing Clinton did in her interview with Todd is acknowledging that "I understand people have concerns about this." As I have noted many times before, whether Clinton thinks the emails are a big deal (she doesn't) is immaterial. Poll after poll shows people don't believe she is honest and trustworthy — numbers that have gone up since Clinton has been embroiled in the email mess. That's not a coincidence.
Clinton's next line — "I hope and expect voters to look at the full picture of everything I've done and stand for" — is the pullback move that she needs. Look, Clinton is saying, you may not like how I handled this email situation, but look at my life in public office. It shows a commitment to service and to getting things done with a giant bureaucracy that helps mitigate any concerns you might have with the email issue.
That line — and appeal for more context — won't win over conservatives who believe her career is riddled with other events that show that the email controversy is more rule than exception. But it might help Clinton rally Democrats to her cause and win over some wavering independents.
3. She reminds people that the only other choice they have in this election is Donald Trump: Clinton's best message in the race is: "I am the person not named 'Donald Trump' running for president." Clinton references the "full threat posed by Donald Trump" in her interview with Todd for this very reason. Hey, you might not like or trust me, she is saying, but that's almost besides the point. I am running against someone who could pose a very real danger to this country. Do you want that?
This is a binary choice election. (Sorry Gary Johnson!) There are only two people who have a legitimate chance of being the 45th president of the United States. Clinton doesn't need to beat the ideal choice for Republicans; she just needs to beat Trump. Driving home that point again and again and again is Clinton's best strategy.
Ideally, Clinton would have offered this response as soon as she was asked about the IG report on Wednesday. She didn't, but she deserves some credit for figuring out the right answer — eventually.