The circus is back in town.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has not yet even announced that she is running for president, but the spectacle of the Clinton White House years is unfolding again, touched off by the controversy over her practice of using a private e-mail account, rather than an official one, while she was secretary of state…

“Do you remember Whitewater? Do you remember Filegate? Do you remember Travelgate? Do you remember Pardongate?” former Clinton strategist James Carville asked Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.

For viewers old enough to remember, the details of those scandals and pseudo-scandals may be hazy, but the impression lingers of a presidency that ran as a perpetual war room. Indeed, that was one of the reasons that Clinton lost in 2008, the first time she ran for president, to a younger, fresher figure who offered a chance to turn the page.

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What we learned yesterday is that Hillary Clinton hasn’t changed a thing. In her news conference responding to her use of personal emails as secretary of state, Clinton was 1) lawyerly, 2) dismissive of the news media’s interest in the story (that’s why she began her remarks talking about her speech at the UN and the Iran negotiations), 3) telling reporters and the public that they were going to have to trust her regarding the emails she preserved versus those she didn’t, and 4) giving Democrats and defenders just the bare minimum (she will release all of her work-related emails but not turn over her private server). Folks, this is the Clinton Way. Secretive. Lawyerly. Dismissive of the press. And if there’s a big danger here, it’s looking like a candidate of the past instead of a candidate of the future when nearly 60% of American voters want change, per our most recent NBC/WSJ poll.

But there’s one other important thing to remember about the Clinton Way: With just one big exception — in 2008 against Barack Obama — they win.

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Beneath the politesse, however, was an unmistakable message in her 21-minute news conference in New York on Tuesday, easily distilled into three short words: Go to hell

Go to hell is not typically a sentiment expressed by politicians on the brink of a presidential campaign. But in Hillary Clinton’s case, it reflects a sincerely held belief that has been nearly a quarter-century in the making…

Bill Clinton himself likes to say that “all presidential campaigns are about the future.” He survived his own controversies in part because of his personal ebullience and native optimism. But it is hard to believe that the desultory, backward-looking, here-we-go-again mood created by this email controversy is what the doctor would order at this moment in Hillary Clinton’s career, when someone who has spent the past generation as the most famous woman in the world must project fresh energy and a forward-facing vision.

Which will voters see: the aggrieved candidate reminding us of the aggrieved 2008 loser and the aggrieved first lady before that? Or the obsessive media and those conspiring Republicans, trapped and stale in their Clinton obsessions of the past?

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A steel ring of support closed around the former US senator and first lady, with American Bridge, a liberal political action committee, slamming Republicans for sensationalizing the Clinton email saga and her team insisting she abided by the law.

But some Democrats quietly worry that the so-called “emailgate” could haunt her campaign-in-waiting, at the very moment the party should be discussing more substantive issues like growing the economy or confronting Islamic jihadists.

I think they could have handled this more swiftly and cleanly over the past couple of weeks,” a source long-acquainted with the Clinton camp told AFP.

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“I don’t know if I’m more concerned about the ‘convenience’ [explanation] than I am about the almost arrogance of the way this has been handled by her staff and the secretary,” said Boyd Brown, a Democratic National Committee member from South Carolina. “It could have been handled better—a little less flippant than it was.”…

Longtime Democratic aide Jim Manley agreed, saying the former secretary of State’s word choice will cause her problems going forward. “I think some folks are going to have a problem with that particular word,” he said. “I think she handled everything as well as can be expected, but if you are asking me whether she can put all of this behind her after one 21-minute press conference the answer is no.”…

“It made me cringe,” said one Democratic operative. “No, it wasn’t the worst press conference—she didn’t lose her cool, she didn’t lash out. It just felt so stiff and so structured and so orchestrated that it’s almost like she was caught off-guard. … There was a human element that was missing.”

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Hillary Clinton’s press performance Tuesday afternoon was, truly, everything Americans could have hoped for from our former First Lady, Modern Joan of Arc, Lady Macbeth, Senate carpetbagger and eternal public Woman Scorned…

We are fast approaching the 25th anniversary of our first date with the Clintons…

America, are you ready for 10 — TEN! — more years of political Hurt Locker? Because that is exactly what we are about to get. Ten more YEARS of deafening shock, trauma, stifled talk-show screams, political slow motion, scandal, faraway voices, incomprehensible movements.

Then we emerge as if surfacing from underwater and there she is. Crystal clear. Smiling. Standing in the bowels of the United Nations, the very cradle of unelected, unaccountable political autocrats with Orwellian explanations for the bizarre fiats issued from committees and subcommittees with Orwellian names.

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And we got a feel for what kind of a campaign this will be: one that barrels forward with the wheels nearly off at all times. That is, a Clinton campaign. Full of mistakes and tactics and drama and risk — the sort of thing that reporters love to cover, and that Bill Clinton always seemed to feed off. Hillary Clinton, though, draws no energy from the chaos, and the difference between Bill Clinton in a corner and Hillary Clinton in a corner seems to be that she is really having no fun at all, except, perhaps, in the late days of her 2008 run. She is a stoic, and she soldiered through Tuesday, looking at the press pack with undisguised dislike and occasionally seeming to look right through us and onto a couple more — 10 more? — awful years of this, every day.

If there was a difference from the old ones, it is that this won’t be a Clinton campaign where the Clinton in question seems to be having a perverse kind of fun feeding on the chaos. Tuesday, Hillary Clinton projected the stoicism of a person who really, truly hates what she’s doing, and does it anyway.

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Clinton’s challenge is to persuade an electorate that has known her since the Mesozoic era and trudged wearily with her through so much political melodrama that to vote for her is to turn the page, to embrace a new chapter, to move forward…

But what she needs, not so much to put this behind her as to get ahead, is a kind of reset, a reboot, one in which she sublimates her understandable desire to conduct her business in the way she prefers to a show of openness and transparency. She shouldn’t simply be assuring voters that they can trust her and that no outside arbiter is needed. She should be eliminating the shields and shenanigans that create room for distrust in the first place.

That would be a break with the Clintons of the 1990s, a departure from politics as usual and a sign to voters that in order to make political history, she’s willing to examine her personal history, acknowledge her mistakes and change her ways, electing candor over ceaseless calculation…

She’s going to have a primary, all right, but it will be a contest against her own worst impulses, default defensiveness and prickly sense of insult when pressed for explanations. From what I saw Tuesday, victory is uncertain.

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It isn’t just that Clinton looked tired, was flat-footed in her responses, and made some cringe-worthy comments about not wanting to have two email accounts to follow. To be sure, it was  difficult to watch—almost as bad as that 2007 debate.

The seasoned politician and former Cabinet member had several days to formulate a response to “email-gate.” But her answer was that she had combined her personal and official emails onto a private server for “convenience.” And, she added, she would not turn over that server for inspection.

The press just wasn’t buying it. To run the sort of larger-than-life campaign that Clinton seems to want to run, she has to fit the larger-than-life bill. The reason Barack Obama was treated like LeBron is that he sort of was LeBron. His campaign racked up only a handful of mistakes. He always seemed to pull things out when he needed to. He hit the three-pointers when it mattered. This created a virtuous cycle: He did amazing things, and the press treated him as such. If Obama had had as many problems as Clinton has, and had responded in the same way, his campaign would have gone nowhere…

She will have to earn favorable coverage, and she isn’t doing it so far. If it keeps up, not only will she not have an advantage in how the “intangibles” stack up, she might have a disadvantage that pushes her below what the fundamentals suggest.

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If Clinton did succeed in destroying the emails, she will have denied her opponents the pleasure of using them against her. But that act of crisis management has a cost, too. If they don’t exist, Clinton can’t use them to exonerate herself from the charges—real and fanciful—that her foes issue. Some may think that it’s a rotten deal that Clinton has to prove herself innocent rather than her foes have to prove that she’s guilty. But the analogy isn’t perfect. Clinton isn’t a citizen who stands accused of wrongdoing, she’s a former public servant (who expects to be president this time in 2016) who acted as judge and jury in the disposition of her emails. We wouldn’t look the other way if a Richard Nixon acted like this, so we can’t look the other way for Clinton.

Having spent four airborne years as secretary of state, Clinton intended to run for president as a cool, decisive, above-it-all diplomat. Instead, she finds herself back on the ground, muddied and bruised, and tangled up in an email kerfuffle that magnifies all of the weaknesses of the House of Clinton. No knock-out punch was landed yesterday, but the match did presage a long campaign in which Clinton is bled and bled again by jabs from the press and the opposition. It’s hard to win if you’re constantly on the defensive.

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[O]ne Clinton confidante told POLITICO the scrutiny of the past week convinced Clinton to speed up the campaign rollout. The internal discussions about delaying the kickoff until July are ancient history; Clinton’s announcement is now expected within the next two to five weeks…

“When she announces that she’s running, that’s when this will fade away,” added a national Democratic strategist familiar with the emerging campaign structure and plans…

“I think most Americans will buy” her answers to the questions she faced on Tuesday, said Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. “And we only need ‘most!’”

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The risibilty of these defenses is the point. To reprise one of my favorite Theodore Dalrymple quotes:

“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better.”

That’s why all this stuff is coming out now. If Hillary can get away with something so obviously and uniquely and intentionally wrong, and that compromises national security to boot, and for which she offers nothing but the most laughable explanations, then she will have set the rules for the next 18 months. If she can make the court eunuchs of the media and the Democrats’ own base complicit in this absurd and unconvincing lie, they’re hardly in a position to complain about all the others in the months ahead.

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Maybe Clinton is diminished enough that we see such chaos in 2016. Maybe Webb and Biden poach some of the white working class, Sanders and Warren pick off some upscale whites, and O’Malley pulls some financiers. In this scenario, no single candidate overwhelms her, but together they diminish her. Chaos ensues, and a dark horse triumphs in the end.

The problem with this is that the Clintons are such a known quantity — and the latest scandals are so thoroughly Clintonian — it is hard to see many Democrats shifting, at least absent new revelations. Is the email issue going to hurt Clinton with the white working class, with Latinos, with donors from Goldman Sachs? Maybe a little, but probably not much. People’s minds are made up about the Clintons — and those who were with her in 2008 will probably stay with her. Maybe the new revelations will keep her from pulling in much of Obama’s coalition, but as long as it stays scattered among several candidates, she should still win…

Of course, Clinton is not worry-free: Warren could pull off the political equivalent of a 7-10 split; Gore or Patrick could toss in; more damaging revelations could come to light. But her core strengths this cycle have mostly to do with the party’s weakness — and even if the recent news has diminished her, she still towers over the rest of the party.

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Yesterday, Hillary Clinton all but declared she will not run for President. She clearly did not enjoy it. And the press and public clearly do not enjoy her. She had been a means to an end, i.e. keeping the White House. But now other candidates without the baggage or bags under the eyes are starting to sniff out vulnerabilities.

Hillary Clinton put her own convenience ahead of the national security of the United States. She clearly is too old and inconvenienced to answer a 3 a.m. phone call.

I suspect most Americans will conclude it is time to leave the nation’s ex-wife in the past.

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Via RCP.