Fair warning: If you haven’t had your coffee yet, do not watch this clip. It will ruin your day.
Hillary Clinton’s contrived and ostensibly incognito van trip from New York to Iowa made an impromptu stop at an Ohio Chipotle on Monday, and the punditry community has been forced to dissect this event with an analyst’s eye. Mary Katharine already took this episode apart, and her set of theories about what it all means for Clinton’s 2016 run are thoughtful and compelling. But one possibility she didn’t consider is that which Bloomberg analyst Mark Halperin entertained on the set of Morning Joe on Tuesday: Clinton is going for “new” and “fun.” And what could be more “new” and “fun” for Hillary Clinton than a soul-sucking trip to a fast food chain with the mission of forcing hideously fatty treats down your throat just to keep you alive for a few more hours?
“Her problem now is not to prove to people that she’s ready to be president because people think she is,” Halperin observed. “The two words she needs are ‘fun’ and ‘new.’”
“Part of why yesterday was so successful is she looks like she’s having fun, and she’s doing, for her, new stuff,” he added. “We’ve never seen her get a burrito before.”
At the outset, let me apologize for making you watch that exchange. I understand that it might have been traumatic for some of you, but this is pain will eventually give way to a moment of clarity. I promise.
Halperin went on to say that Clinton “doesn’t have to prove a thing” for voters on either foreign or domestic policy. All she needs to do is to demonstrate that she, too, can eat greasy roadside fare like the rest of us. If that constitutes astute political analysis, we have an industry-wide crisis on our hands.
Even Halperin’s colleagues on MSNBC have observed that Clinton has conspicuously avoided making note of her record on matters foreign and domestic, despite serving as an informal presidential advisor, a U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State for over two decades. Even media figures who have traditionally been seen as friendly toward the Clintons like Andrea Mitchell observed that the former diplomat has avoided talking about her record, particularly on foreign affairs, “because there are a lot of missteps there.”
The Mystery Machine tour across the Midwest is also a far more fraught endeavor than Halperin suggested. “It’s a trap,” a 2008 Clinton campaign advisor told Politico’s Glenn Thrush. She’s not going to reinvent herself as the everywoman, and you can’t go out there and say, ‘I’m one of you.’”
“In that regard, the van thing is remarkably dangerous because she runs the risk of looking phony, it could cement the idea that she’s inauthentic,” this former advisor continued.
As for not having to prove anything to the voters, one wonders what polling data Halperin has been consuming. It is hard to read a poll these days and not come away with the distinct impression that the coverage of Clinton’s scandalous behavior as America’s chief diplomat has taken a toll on her standing with voters. Many have suggested that Clinton’s approval ratings have taken a dive merely as a result of her decision to reenter the political fray as a candidate, but that doesn’t account for the massive trust deficit she has developed with the public.
In June of last year, 38 percent of the public told NBC/WSJ pollsters that Clinton was trustworthy and straightforward compared to 40 percent who said she was not. This week, a Quinnipiac survey Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia found a massive decline in Clinton’s head-to-head performance against a variety of Republican challengers and a significant increase in the number of voters who say Clinton is not trustworthy. In two of those three states, she has developed a double-digit deficit with voters on the issue of her trustworthiness. “It is difficult to see Secretary Clinton’s slippage as anything other than a further toll on her image from the furor over her email,” said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.
Clinton is going to have to do quite a bit more than demonstrate how “fun” she is by eating a chain burrito with extra corn salsa in order to overcome voters’ new doubts about her sense of ethics.
The van trip is and always was a ploy for earned media with the design of creating the false impression that an organic, grassroots movement, and not Hillary’s ego, is compelling Clinton to run for the White House again. If anyone in the press thinks that the former secretary of state does not want to be hounded by the press as she pretends to eschew the publicity, they’re out of their minds.
Enter Gwenn Ifill:
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) April 13, 2015
How humiliating. If your reportorial instincts have dulled to this point, you should take a hiatus. You don’t merely need to check your gut to know that Clinton’s van trip is a gambit designed to elicit favorable press coverage. According to the New York Times, Clinton and her aides entered and left this Buckeye State Chipotle unnoticed. It wasn’t until the store received a “tip,” and reporters joined managers in sifting through security footage to confirm Hillary’s presence that they discovered the former first lady having so much “fun.” Gosh, I wonder where that “tip” might have come from?
These are our most acclaimed figures within the political commentary community. One co-wrote two best-selling books on the last two presidential cycles and the other moderated a vice presidential debate. Maybe it’s time for some new blood in this business.