Phones haven't always been good to Hillary Clinton. Eight years ago, during her first White House run, she thought voters' faith in her ability to handle some calamitous 3 a.m. phone call would help her defeat Barack Obama in the Democratic primary. She was wrong.
As secretary of state, Clinton wanted so badly to use her personal BlackBerry for official business that she set up the private email server that today is the biggest headache of her second presidential campaign.
Now it appears Clinton might be trying one more time to make phones work to her advantage. Barring an epic collapse in the final stages of her primary contest against Bernie Sanders, she is headed for a general election showdown with Donald Trump, who seems to love phoning in to TV news programs almost as much as he loves tweeting.
Clinton rarely calls in. In fact, she does far fewer TV interviews than Trump, period. But she did two TV interviews by phone in a single afternoon on Thursday, suggesting she might try to beat Trump at his own game — or, at least, not be left on the sidelines.
It's too early to call this a trend, of course, and the Clinton campaign did not respond to a Fix inquiry about whether the candidate plans to make these appearances a regular thing. We'll just have to watch and see.
But it would make a lot of sense. As noted, Trump does many more interviews than Clinton, helping to make him more visible to voters. A presidential candidate is never far from a camera, but there are surely times when the most convenient thing is to simply pick up the phone and call in to make a point.
Networks don't love this — theirs is a visual medium, after all — and some shows such as "CBS This Morning" and "Fox News Sunday" have refused to conduct phone interviews. But many others have allowed Trump to call in and would likely feel obligated to let Clinton do the same, should she want to.
Phone interviews can give candidates an edge in tough interviews, as CNN's Chris Cuomo explained to the Erik Wemple Blog in the fall:
"I would suggest it's a tactic, a strategy more than it is convenience," [Cuomo] says. Here are the various advantages that Trump derives, in the view of the host:
* "He doesn’t have to pick up on any visual cues. He doesn't have to worry about the body language that is coming from somewhere else."
* "It's easy for him to over-talk the questioner."
* It's tricky for interviewers because they're not looking at their interviewee; they're looking into a camera.
It's worth noting that Clinton picked the occasion of a critical report on her private email use by the State Department inspector general to call in to CNN and MSNBC. Perhaps her campaign recognized some of the same tactical benefits identified by Cuomo.
If that's the case, then Clinton's Thursday phoners might be more of a response to specific circumstances than a sign of things to come. But in either case, they appear to be yet another example of Trump's effect on other candidates and the media in 2016.