With Democrats still trying to figure out who’s going to lead them, Hillary Clinton’s reemergence on the political scene is attracting a lot of attention. But while her recent appearances indicate that she can still lend a high-profile voice to Democratic causes, Clinton risks igniting a controversy that distracts from her party’s message.
On Wednesday, during an event at the Code Conference, Clinton told interviewers Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg that she believed the Democratic National Committee’s failures contributed to her loss. This rankled some political operatives and caused a small Twitter furor. Over on the right, Fox News fired up a Clinton chyron and brought pundits on to condemn her words.
The moment underscored for Clinton that if she’s going to return to public life — and help to Democrats — she’s going to need to choose her words and actions wisely.
Democratic operatives say it’s not surprising that Clinton would reenter the fray. She has immense resources and influence after a historic election and a long career in politics. And Trump is working to enact the kind of future she ran against.
However, she remains a deeply polarizing figure — and an unpopular one. A Suffolk University poll from March found that Trump had a higher favorability rating than Clinton and that her favorability has dropped since the election.
Clinton is also returning at a time when political watchers wish to move on from 2016 yet continue to pore over the results, trying to figure out how to move the party forward in 2018 and 2020. Though her prominence in the Democratic Party means she’s unlikely to ever fully disappear from the spotlight, she is human kindling for the combustible debates happening among Democrats right now.
One of the benefits of Clinton reentering the political conversation is that her clout could provide direction and inspiration for a riled-up liberal base.
“I think that she has people that were more than distraught that she lost. Those people are trying to figure out what to do,” said Scott Mulhauser, who served in the Obama administration. “I think her emerging and steering some of her supporters toward causes, toward issues, toward moments where they can weigh in, helps at a moment where a lot of her supporters are looking for outlets and looking to change things in Washington.”
Mark Longabaugh, who served as a media adviser on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, said,“Pointing out the flaws in Trump’s foreign policy, Trump’s health-care polices, I think that's a very appropriate place for her to be.”
But operatives agreed that any remarks she makes about the 2016 election — why she lost, for example — may do more harm than good.
“I think the concern right now is there’s a lot of talk of unity and there’s a lot of finger-pointing from progressives who want to point out institutional issues that exist within the party,” said Nomiki Konst, who served as a Sanders campaign surrogate. “It’s like there’s this external campaign of: ‘We’re all fine. We’re all coming together. We’re part of the resistance together.’ But the reality is there are real infrastructure issues within the party that need to be addressed.”
Longabaugh had similar sentiments. “I would be less inclined to do an autopsy of the election in terms of Comey, the Russians, the this ones, the that ones,” he said. “I don’t think that’s very productive for the Democratic Party moving forward.”
As one longtime Democratic operative noted, Clinton is often at her best — and perceived the best — when she isn’t running for office and when she's lending her gravitas to causes that she believes in.
But some believe she should be wary of giving the impression that any public immersion is a “relaunch” for the Clinton brand, which could come across as self-interested.
They say sticking to supporting the progressive resistance and lending her voice to the chorus that's mostly being led by Sanders (I-Vt.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) might be a better way for Clinton to use her natural platform to guide the party.
Clinton certainly seems aware of her platform. “I’m not going anywhere,” she promised at the Code Conference.