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Hillary Clinton: Too big to fail

Despite the latest debacle Hillary Clinton and Democrats appear comfortable to maximize her current principal qualities: gender and name. Neither of which should be underestimated, but once she declares her intention to run, scrutiny will prevail, says our U.S. correspondent Tomas Mega from Nevada.

At the recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) extravaganza, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a distant Republican presidential hopeful, said this about Hillary Clinton: “Mrs. Clinton, name an accomplishment?” She went on to say: “Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have travelled the globe. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.” There was more. “She tweets about women’s rights in this country, and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic of human rights.” It was a derisive attack with a new twist; instead of a white male Republican assailing Mrs. Clinton’s difficult to quantify achievements, it was a woman Presidential hopeful. Hillary Clinton has been largely immune from public attacks by women. In fact, since her days as First Lady, she has enjoyed huge support among American women.

That support is being put to the test as she finds herself entangled yet again in another controversy. This time it is her use of a personal email account instead of a Department of State email account to conduct business while she was the Secretary of State. Whether she broke the law, or simply violated the spirit of the law, is a topic of hot debate. Nevertheless, it points once again to an enduring problem for Mrs. Clinton; she comes with baggage, and lots of it. Baggage is nothing new for Presidential hopefuls, but Mrs. Clinton has been a ‘hopeful’ longer than most, and her baggage has accumulated noticeably.

Controversy is nothing new for her. While First Lady, there was the Whitewater investigation, followed by her national health-care debacle, the Travelgate memo and her husband’s affairs, most notably with Monica Lewinski. In 2008, Barack Obama came out of nowhere and Democrats abandoned her, thwarting her Presidential bid. Battered from that punishing experience, Obama named her as his Secretary of State, but the President was quick to put her on a short leash. During her time as Secretary of State, it is widely acknowledged that foreign policy was dictated mostly from the White House.

Add to the list the millions of dollars given to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments, some of which have dubious records for many of the causes championed by Mrs. Clinton. In 2014, her comment that she and her husband were ‘dead broke’ when they left the White House had even her most ardent supporters rolling their eyeballs. She later walked back from that statement.

Through it all, Hillary Clinton has showed remarkable resilience. While her public approval rating, as reported by the Gallup organization, has bounced up and down in response to her difficulties, it has rarely harmed her. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, her approval rating soared.

However, many Democrats are worried. When is enough, enough? Her lack of quantifiable achievement undercuts much of her rhetoric. Her perceived arrogance, and what some view as her entitlement to the nomination, is troubling. The fact that Democrats have only her as a 2016 Presidential candidate doesn’t leave them much room for error. If not Hillary, then who? Unlike Republicans, Democrats have to put – for now – all of their faith in a Hillary candidacy and victory.

That has Republicans salivating for an all out attack on Mrs. Clinton should she decide to run for President. Republican political action committees and consulting organisations are poised to strike. But don’t expect wild assaults and outrageous language from Republicans. They can ill afford ‘loony’ pronouncements in 2016, similar to Representative Todd Akin’s 2012 manifestation of “legitimate rape,” and they are acutely aware that a price will be paid if they turn off women voters with an onslaught of ‘Hillary hating’ meanness. Ms. Fiorina’s comments were directed to an audience of Conservatives. During a Presidential election campaign, candidate comments will be addressed to all Americans. Burning Glass Consulting, a group founded by female Republican political campaign veterans, understands this. Katie Packer Gage, one of its founders, puts it this way: “Women have this feeling that the world, and particularly Washington, is run by men, and if something comes across as mean or unfair they tend to rush to Mrs. Clinton’s defense. We have to make sure nothing comes across as unfair.” Despite Mrs. Clinton’s appeal to many women, Burning Glass Consulting knows that the majority of white women have voted Republican in the past four presidential elections, and in particular, married white women. There job is to ensure Republican messaging does not alienate those groups.

For now and until Mrs. Clinton declares her candidacy, she and Democrats appear comfortable to maximize her current principal qualities: gender and name. Neither of which should be underestimated, but once she declares her intention to run, scrutiny will prevail and Republicans seem determined to do it without the meanness that could ultimately turn off women voters. They’re far less worried about blue-collar white men. Polls already show they probably won’t vote for Mrs. Clinton, notwithstanding their historical importance to Democrats. How Mrs. Clinton will get that group to vote for her remains a challenge.

Despite her latest email troubles, many pundits argue that it is not likely to derail her hopes to be the Democratic nominee. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley could pull a surprise and contest Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic nomination. He, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, could, by contesting, engage and excite Democrats and perhaps force Mrs. Clinton to debate issues and make her entitlement look less like a coronation. Then again, it is doubtful Mrs. Clinton will have any of it. Even with the increasing weight of her baggage, Hillary Clinton may just be too big to fail.
Ed’s note: This article was orginally published on the May edition of  Addis Standard magazine on the 1st of May 2015.



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