Do not panic.
Of all the candidates in this race, Hillary Clinton is the only one that most Americans could imagine being president. Think about it. Every day, people ask me, "Could (Trump/Carson/Sanders) ever be president? Could (Paul/Cruz/Rubio) ever be president?" Most of the time I just shrug, because winning the White House is only one measure of a "successful" primary campaign.
No one asks, "Could Hillary Clinton ever be president?"
What they're asking, more loudly each day, is some version of what the you-know-what is going on? How can the much-vaunted Clinton-political-genius machine be stumbling so badly in dealing with the home server situations? Doesn't anyone there know that you need to play to her strengths, not to her weaknesses — the biggest of which is almost certainly her defensiveness about admitting mistakes.
I understand why the Clintons see political opponents around every corner. It's quite simple, actually. It's because there are political opponents around every corner; how can there not be when you've been playing big league politics for as long as these two have? And if you aren't ready to take aggressive action to smoke them out, you won't be the frontrunner for president, which Hillary still is.
I do wish she had just stood up and taken full responsibility when this whole server business broke. Remember when Janet Reno took responsibility for the disastrous shootout at Waco, Texas, even though she herself didn't have much to do with it and certainly wasn't there? Her popularity skyrocketed — even though most people disapproved of the raid — because she took responsibility. Taking responsibility for things you yourself didn't do, or for acting on bad advice, is particularly appealing.
Blaming other people tends to be less appealing. Getting the story out, the whole story, as fast as you can, is the way to stop it from growing. That is, assuming there's not much there, which seems to be the case: it was a mistake to try to have a private server as secretary of state, and there was a relatively small number of e-mails that should not have been on the server under any circumstances. That is the outline of the story that has been plaguing Hillary for months now.
"Much ado about not much" is how most of her supporters see it. What worries them is the "campaign's" hapless handling of it, taking what could have been a contained mistake and letting it bloom into a question of character.
"Why didn't anyone tell her?" people ask me all the time.
One of two answers must be true, maybe both: People did tell her. There aren't that many approaches to a situation like this, and the approach that uses responsibility and transparency in one fell swoop has been the industry standard since Geraldine Ferraro did her endless press conference in 1984, unloading more tax returns than anyone could swallow in response to her initial reluctance to disclose them.
Either that, or Clinton is surrounded by people so eager to win her favor that they tell her what they think she wants to hear, rather than what she needs to hear. Every politician falls prey to this, which is why in many campaigns, senior operatives have a limited shelf life. Most of us like people who think well of us. I would rather hear how well I did than how poorly, rather be told that it wasn't my fault than that it was.
But here's the good news. It is October of 2015. We're still in spring training, getting out the kinks. If you're paying close attention, God bless you, but you're in the minority. The Clinton machine is getting the kinks out. But all the reasons that made you support her, all the reasons that make her the frontrunner, are as true today as they were the day before that server was discovered. This too shall pass, and the lessons learned may prove valuable when the World Series comes along.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)
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