Hillary Clinton has been the presumed Democratic nominee for President in 2016 since the last ballots were cast in 2012. Polls showed her miles ahead of all potential Democratic rivals in 2016. In fact so assumed is her nomination in 2016, should anything happen to her, the Democratic Party has no real viable plan B for 2016. Her candidacy and election would break the glass ceiling and be as historic as Barack Obama’s. Yet despite all of this, she is without a doubt the most polarizing political figure since Richard Nixon. She is the Democrat that Republicans love to hate (just as Democrats hated Nixon). And in dealing in a crisis, she also resembles Nixon.
In recent days, the media has been saturated with stories of how Hillary Clinton used a private email and server when she was Secretary of State thus avoiding freedom of information requests. As the story escalated, she offered to make the emails available and did in hard copy form (reminiscent of Nixon’s offer to make transcripts of his White House tapes available to Watergate investigators one of whom was Hillary Clinton). And if the email controversy isn’t enough allegations are arising about donations that the Clinton Foundation has received from foreign governments.
Hillary Clinton sought to end the controversy by taking some questions from the media after speaking at an event at the United Nations. Clinton as has been her wont during a crisis made a legalistic argument that she did nothing wrong. There was no emotional argument or strong mea culpa. Rather it was the lawyer Hillary Clinton saying that everything she did was legal. She did acknowledge that she had deleted some personal emails which will lead to questions of what did she delete. She also attempted to brush aside questions about the Clinton Foundation. Her body language and expressions seemed to indicate that she thought this all much ado about nothing and was exasperated at having to answer questions.
It was not enough to end the media firestorm that is surrounding her. While it may have calmed briefly Democrats who were contemplating a Martin O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden as their nominee in 2016, the press conference reinforced the polarizing image that Republicans and many Independents have of her. So what if anything should she do now?
Hillary needs to get beyond the legalistic argument. She needs to show emotion and acknowledge that while it was legal there are valid reasons why people are suspicious and she understands that in this age of distrust of government. Hillary should acknowledge she made a mistake and that she should have been more open and transparent, promising to go forward in such a matter. She needs to show that she understands where legitimate concerns might arise and respects those with real concerns and questions. Dismissing these questions as a political attack or acting disdainful towards questions will further damage her. She also needs a clear and concise accounting by independent auditors of the emails.
Next she needs to take another page of the Nixon playbook and use it – the new Nixon. In 1968, Richard Nixon, just as polarizing as Hillary is now, came back from the political wilderness by displaying a new persona part of which was originally being open with the media. Much of Hillary’s problems as with Nixon is her perception that the press is the enemy. While she would be insane to ever consider them as her friends, she should open up and meet with them more, taking their questions and act as if she is enjoying it. Hit the talk shows during this and show a human side.
Hillary also needs to be proactive on the questions swirling about the Clinton Foundation. She needs to get everything out there at once; if not this potential scandal will dog her now just now but throughout 2016. Overwhelm the media with information would be her best tactic. And she should do this now rather than later.
There are two types of politicians – the politicians of prose and those of poetry. Those of poetry who face scandals and setbacks head on, survive (see JFK with the Bay of Pigs and Reagan with Iran Contra). Those who deal with a scandal with the prose of legalism fail. This is Hillary’s moment in handling this crisis to determine which type she is.