It is objectively true that Clinton’s “dead broke” comment earned her mockery from political analysts and allies alike. An empirical analysis of the political landscape would force any competent observer to concede that the former secretary of state has spent the last two weeks performing damage control in the effort to limit the fallout from that comment. Even former President Bill Clinton was forced to defend his wife’s claim from the censure of fact-checkers.
Those center-left media personalities who do not thrive on the crafting Slate-like, absurdly counter-intuitive takes, have observed the obvious: Clinton’s week has been an atrocious one.
“‘[D]ead broke’ people don’t have $350,000 in cash to secure one mortgage and $855,000 in cash to secure another,” wrote Politico’s Roger Simon. “About 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, and 47 million need food stamps; they know what dead broke looks like, and it doesn’t look like the Clintons.”
“Not only is Clinton rusty, she is showing us repeatedly that when she’s in an uncontrolled situation — you know, like an interview — her political pitch is far from perfect,” the columnist Jill Lawrence opined. “But these stumbles on money, while not ideal for a prospective candidate, are simply confirming a larger reality. The everywoman persona was an accident of 2008.”
A report in The Washington Post quotes Democrats calling Clinton “imperial,” “totally cut off,” and the Democratic Party’s Mitt Romney.
The fact is that Clinton was being strategic when she claimed and claimed again that she and her husband were impoverished and “struggled.” As one of the most accomplished Democratic politicians of the last 20 years, she was accurately reflecting the mood of her party’s primary electorate. Having been inundated with incitement to class envy from the White House for the last five years, reliable Democratic voters are deeply mistrustful of the wealthy.
Clinton is not the only one acting on this assessment of the Democratic primary electorate. Two equally successful Democratic politicians, Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have also made demonstrably false claims that they do not know true wealth in order to placate the increasingly populist Democratic base.
Clinton remains, however, the Democratic Party’s best hope to retain control of the White House in 2016. That alone has led some palpably nervous liberals to race to Clinton’s defense in ways that strain credulity to the breaking point.
On MSNBC.com yesterday, Aliyah Frumin broke the news that, while both the Clintons and the Bidens are wealthy, Republican 2016 hopefuls have also made money in their lives.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile implied that criticism of Clinton’s wealth was sexist and that Republican men who have amassed their own millions deserve equal scrutiny. Brazile forgets to note that this scrutiny is coming exclusively from Democrats and members of the press after the former secretary of state made it an issue.
Democratic strategist and former lobbyist Angela Rye defended Clinton on the basis of her supporting policies she subjectively determined were best for America’s working poor, even if she does not walk the walk herself. Rye suggested that Clinton’s hypocrisy was tolerable if only because her heart is in the right place.
But the award for most entertaining effort to claim Clinton’s maladroit campaign roll out is a blessing in disguise goes to Vox.com founder Ezra Klein.
Klein wrote on Wednesday that Clinton’s wealth gaffes, as well as a testy exchange she had with NPR host Terry Gross over her politically convenient “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage, come at a “great” time. Why? “[S]he can spend the next two years relearning how to run a national campaign,” Klein wrote. “Her competitors can’t.”
“Hillary Clinton has two advantages over her opponents,” he concluded. “The first is that she’s done this before. But the second is she can start doing it again much earlier than they can.”
She’s making mistakes in 2014 — when they don’t matter. They’ll make those mistakes in 2016 — when they do. Clinton’s got weaknesses, of course. But the missteps she’s making — and learning from — as she finds her footing in the mini-campaign that only she can hold speak to one of her strengths. Come 2016, she’s going to look a lot more natural than her challengers.
Tell that to Rudy Giuliani.
Let’s assume Clinton is clearing out the cobwebs that have blanketed her political acumen after nearly six years of dormancy. She is also creating a lot of space to her left, aggravating the party’s progressive wing, and emboldening those Democratic office seekers who might consider challenging Clinton in 2016. And, considering her disconcerting early gaffes, the party would probably welcome that challenge if only to air and neutralize some of her increasingly apparent negatives.
This “great timing” for Clinton could just as easily prompt average Democrats, six in ten of whom already want Clinton to face a primary challenge, to demand one.
One unnamed Democratic strategist told The Washington Post this week that Clinton’s stumbles should prompt Democratic Party to “panic.” The incoherent and flailing effort by Clinton’s allies to salvage her awful month is what panic looks like.