Talk about a bad week. Hillary Clinton thought that the solution to having the State Department Inspector General expose her many lies about her secret and unauthorized e-mail server was to offer the media the hair of the dog that bit ’em — by simply regurgitating them in slightly different form. To the LA Times’ Doyle McManus, that strategy looked doomed from the moment Team Hillary launched it on Wednesday:
An official statement from campaign spokesman Brian Fallon stopped just short of claiming that the inspector general’s report was actually a vindication.
“While political opponents of Hillary Clinton are sure to misrepresent this report for their own partisan purposes, in reality, the inspector general documents just how consistent her email practices were with those of other secretaries and senior officials at the State Department who also used personal email,” the statement said. (Actually, the report said there were “significant differences” in those other cases.)
The statement included no direct response to the inspector general’s main findings, and certainly no acknowledgement of error.
Instead, the campaign’s message boiled down to: Everybody did it, and most of the criticism is just politics.
It read like spin. And for a candidate with a credibility problem, it probably didn’t help.
By the end of the week, the reviews were in — and they were almost uniformly bad. The Hill’s Julian Hattem writes that the IG report and its exposure of Hillary’s lies — which the Associated Press euphemistically called “misstated key facts” — reinforces what people already think of Hillary Clinton. Hint: That’s a bad thing. And it’s about to get worse:
The State Department’s watchdog report was especially damaging, given the official nature of its source. The report claimed that Clinton never sought approval for her “homebrew” email setup, that her use of the system violated the department’s record-keeping rules and that it would have been rejected had she brought it up to department officials.
Clinton’s allies attempted to paint the office as partisan in the weeks ahead of the report’s release, but the effort failed to leave a lasting impact.
For months, Clinton and her team have failed to offer a convincing explanation for the use of the private server, and she has steadfastly refused to apologize. …
Clinton and many of her top aides declined to take part in the inspector general’s probe. But they won’t have that option going forward.
Chris Cillizza calls the strategy a blunder in awarding Hillary his “worst week in Washington” award:
Clinton initially sought to downplay the report as old news. “It’s the same story,” she told Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas. “Just like previous secretaries of state, I used a personal email. Many people did. It was not at all unprecedented.”
Except that it was. While other secretaries of state had used personal email addresses, none of them had exclusively done so. And as Helderman and Hamburger noted, the State Department IG report scolded Clinton not only for using the email address exclusively but also for slow-walking the release of those emails to the State Department.
For Clinton, who has struggled for more than a year with how to best respond to the email problem — and to the broader honesty and trustworthiness questions it raises — it was exactly what she didn’t need as she seeks to finally close out Sanders and unite the party in the face of a surprisingly strong showing by Trump in early general election polls.
By Thursday night, Clinton was calling in to cable shows to revise and extend her initial dismissiveness about the IG report. Too late. Damage done.
In the end, though, how much impact will this have on Hillary’s reputation and campaign? Or, to use her own words, what difference at this point does it make? Hattem hints at this in his coverage; this reinforces perceptions of her dishonesty and untrustworthiness, but those perceptions are already widespread. Her favorability numbers in general-election polls are relentlessly negative, mostly driven by voter distrust, and both of those trends have been evident since early last year.
And yet, Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination outright in ten days. She’s 73 delegates away from the nomination as of today, with 694 delegates at stake on the June 7 super Tuesday. Bernie Sanders would need to win more than 90% of the remaining popular vote to keep her from clinching under Democratic proportional allocation rules. She’s more likely to win a majority of the vote a week from Tuesday than she is to miss clinching the nomination. She could lose 200 superdelegates over the next ten days and still beat Bernie. Unless Bernie decamps for the Green Party and takes his voters with him — still a possibility — Hillary will end up uniting Democrats behind her bid for as long as she’s legally eligible to run for the office.
In the end, Hillary can afford to double down, and she can still count on her media apologists to embrace her continuing denials. Her dishonesty and opacity have long been priced into the Hillary ticket, and Democrats will continue to ignore her machinations as long as they aren’t prosecuted. If they are, then those calculations will change — but until then, the IG report will simply cause Hillary supporters to circle the wagons and start offering conspiracy theories about how an IG appointed by Barack Obama is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.