Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages: Step right up and witness a feat that will astound and amaze you: See Hillary Clinton being warm and funny.
It’s the season premiere of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in Rockefeller Plaza, and Clinton is bopping, waving, laughing and enjoying herself oh-so-conspicuously. She resolutely keeps a smile on her face even when DeGeneres asks about Clinton’s e-mail controversy.
She jokes about what her baby granddaughter will call her: “I’m fine with ‘Madam President.’ ” She offers to roller skate with Amy Schumer. She jokes about her age: “I would be the youngest woman ever elected president.” And she joshes about when she sang to baby Chelsea: “She reached her finger up and goes, ‘no sing, mommy.’ ”
She’s in town all week, folks.
We knew Clinton was going to be funny and warm because her aides told the New York Times she was going to be funny and warm. “Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say,” was the headline on Amy Chozick’s piece this week, reporting that “there will be new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.”
“They want to show her humor,” Chozick said of the advisers. “They want to show her heart.” They want this even though previous such efforts “backfired amid criticism that the efforts seemed overly poll tested.”
Maybe they seemed poll-tested because they were poll-tested, but no matter: “The coming months will also be a period of trying to shed her scriptedness.”
Planned spontaneity? A scripted attempt to go off script? This puts the “moron” into oxymoron.
Here’s a better idea: Find and fire people who talk about her that way. Thin out the whole bloated campaign and its cadre of consultants and shed those who orchestrate these constant makeovers of Clinton. Then, rather than stage-managing a strategy to appear spontaneous, Clinton might actually be spontaneous — and regain some semblance of her authentic self.
Seven months ago, my colleagues Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan wrote about Clinton hiring consumer marketing specialists “to help imagine Hillary 5.0.” There have been several incarnations since then: Her coy “I’m thinking about it” period, her soft launch, her populist pitch to help “everyday Americans.” (Chozick reports Clinton is dropping the phrase because it didn’t “resonate.”) There was the thrifty Clinton campaign that ordered staff to take the Bolt Bus, instead of Amtrak, between New York and Washington. First Clinton was defiant about her e-mail server; now she’s “transparent” and apologetic. The headline on Mark Leibovich’s piece in the New York Times Magazine in July was “Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton.”
And now comes the latest of many warm-and-fuzzy makeovers — perhaps the most transparent phoniness since Al Gore discovered earth tones.
Clinton’s campaign spent $18.7 million in the second quarter, dramatically more than any other. The mid-July report said she received $815,000 worth of services from strategist Joel Benenson’s firm alone. Since then, the campaign launched a $4 million ad blitz in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And what does she have to show for it? A Quinnipiac poll Thursday found that Clinton had shed 12 points in Iowa in two months and now trailed the vastly outspent (but authentic) Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 41 percent to 40 percent. She was already trailing in New Hampshire.
Certainly, part of Clinton’s problem comes from her very authentic secrecy, which led to the disastrous decision to have a private e-mail server. But her campaign makes her problems worse. She has an inner circle of loyalists who can’t, or won’t, tell her when she’s making a bad decision, as with her initial grudging response to the e-mail controversy. And she has a group of hired guns, imported from the Obama campaign, who sell her as if she were a new formula of detergent each week.
What if Clinton were to chuck all that? What would remain is this: a lifelong advocate for children who worked for the Children’s Defense Fund rather than taking a high-paying job after law school; a woman who cares more about those in need than her husband ever did; a policy nerd who believes government can be a force for good.
Maybe voters in this anti-establishment, populist moment still won’t embrace a foreign policy hawk with ties to Wall Street. But what voters reject every time is a phony. If Clinton ditches the constant makeovers and still loses, she at least will have the dignity of knowing she was her own person.