Hillary Clinton has had a great run since her terrific performance in the first Democratic debate and ending with her 11 hours of testimony before the House Benghazi Committee and her interview with Rachel Maddow last night. Hillary’s poll numbers are going up, and yesterday she was endorsed by a major union, AFCME.
Since Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her bid for the White House, she has steadily slipped from inevitable nominee to flawed and vulnerable front-runner amid campaign mishaps and Clinton fatigue – and her rivals anticipated that it all would accelerate in recent days.
But in yet another reflection that little in the presidential election is going the way of the prognosticators, Clinton is bolting out of October with the wind at her back.
The House Benghazi committee that threatened to menace her campaign turned into a bust. The presidential debate that promised to give her rivals a boost instead gave her an opportunity to outshine them. And most important, the headache for her campaign that was Joe Biden disappeared altogether with his surprise Rose Garden announcement that he won’t pursue the Democratic nomination.
Biden’s exit Wednesday followed that of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a declared candidate. And by Friday morning, Lincoln Chafee, the former senator from and governor of Rhode Island, was pulling out of the race, nodding to Clinton’s “good week” as a reason.
“It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it?” Clinton asked the crowd after taking the stage Friday morning at a Democratic National Committee women’s leadership event in Washington.
Yes, it certainly has. Here’s Steve Benen at MSNBC: ‘The best 10-day stretch Clinton could have asked for.’
About a month ago…Hillary Clinton’s fortunes appeared to be taking a turn for the worse. Her poll support was dwindling; there was increased chatter surrounding Vice President Biden; Bernie Sanders was being cheered by massive crowds; and the political world, for reasons that have never been entirely clear to me, was fascinated with Clinton’s email server management.
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver explained that Clinton was “stuck in a poll-deflating feedback loop,” in which the national press hammered her for some perceived weakness, which caused her to lose public support, which produced weaker poll numbers, which caused the national press to hammer her again, starting the cycle anew.
But that was last month. This month, offers a very different take on Clinton’s candidacy. NBC News’ First Read had a good piece this morning:
She came. She saw. She – take your pick – conquered/thrived/survived. As a matter of pure political theater, yesterday’s Benghazi committee hearing was a victory for Hillary Clinton and an overwhelming defeat for House Republicans. And perhaps more importantly, it caps off the best 10-day stretch Clinton could have asked for. […]
At the beginning of this month, we told you how important October was going to be for Clinton’s presidential bid after her summer struggles: If she doesn’t end up as the nominee, we’ll be able to trace it back to the events in October. Conversely, if she DOES end up the nominee, it will be because of what happened in October. And so – with the reminder that anything can happen in politics – we think we have our answer to our October question.
If you didn’t see the interview with Rachel Maddow last night, please be sure to watch it. You can also read the transcript here. Hillary was very relaxed and sincere during Maddow’s questioning, and she never became the slightest bit defensive when asked about Bill Clinton’s policies on LGBT rights and about her long-time friends who supposedly might cause problems if she becomes President. I was so impressed! It was wonderful to hear her talk about reproductive rights and voting rights. Listening to her makes me realize again and again why we need a woman in the White House.
Rachel even asked Hillary about Alabama Republican Mo Brooks, who said he would start trying to impeach her on day one of her presidency.
Clinton laughed heartily when Maddow confronted her with the threat from Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks to try to depose Clinton on “day one” of her hypothetical presidency.
“Isn’t that pathetic?” the former secretary of state said with a smile. “It’s just laughable, it’s so totally ridiculous.” She characterized it as one of many GOP efforts to win over “the most intense, extreme part of their base.”
Chris Hayes seemed especially amazed by Clinton’s response to this question. I got the impression that he had bought into the Villagers’ narrative about Hillary and was suddenly discovering that she is a real person who is intelligent, competent, and comfortable in her own skin. Until now he has touted Bernie Sanders and Lawrence Lessig. Perhaps he’ll try to get Hillary as a guest now.
More about the interview:
Maddow questioned Clinton on several fronts, including Syria policy, the future of the Veterans Administration, and what Maddow described as a personal concern that the Clintons have surrounded themselves with too many old friends who would want to “fight your wars again.”
Maddow’s toughest questions addressed Bill Clinton’s legacy on civil rights and civil liberties. Many of President Obama’s accomplishments on those issues, Maddow argued, involved “undoing things from the Clinton administration.” In particular, Maddow cited Clinton’s embrace of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy blocking gays from serving openly in the military….
The Defense of Marriage Act, legislation Bill Clinton signed that defined marriage legally as between one man and one woman, was “a defensive action” to stymie what the Clintons believed was enough political momentum to amend the constitution to effectively bar gay marriage, Hillary Clinton said.
The tough-on-crime bill that her husband signed into law was a reaction to the “horrific crime rates of the 1980s,” the former first lady added.
“There was just a consensus across every community that something had to be done,” she said.
Clinton noted that she has since disavowed the law and was committed to reforming criminal justice policies. But Clinton framed her overall governing philosophy as one based on pragmatism, a realization that sometimes it’s necessary to choose the lesser evil.
“I think that sometimes as a leader in Democracy you are confronted with two bad choices. It is not an easy position to be in, and you have to try to think what is the least bad choice, and how do I try to cabin this off from having worse consequences?” she said.
More highlights at the link.
The consensus on both left and right about Clinton’s testimony before the Benghazi committee is that her GOP torturers did her a big favor.
Jeb Lund at Rolling Stone: Republicans’ 11-Hour Gift to Hillary Clinton.
Eleven hours is a long damn time. Eleven hours is long enough to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco with two stops along the way to watch a movie and a football game in their entirety. And over the course of 11 hours of hectoring, insinuation and questions that started out redundant and turned into echolalia, Hillary Clinton never lost her cool. If she’s elected president, she should send every Republican member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi a needlingly effusive thank you card. They practically picked her up and carried her toward the White House….
Despite being billed as a hard-nosed prosecutor, [Trey] Gowdy let the proceedings wander all over the place, to the point where it’s impossible to tell what the Republicans even wanted to know, let alone what they thought they could charge Hillary with. Maybe it was her Libya intervention policy itself that failed, inevitably leading to the four deaths in the Benghazi compound. Maybe it was her email. Maybe she emailed with her buddy Sidney Blumenthal too much and Ambassador Chris Stevens too little. Maybe she didn’t care about the security staff. Maybe she tried to spin the attack afterward. Maybe she goes on political talk shows.
The Republican members of the committee demonstrated their ignorance on two issues repeatedly over the day’s duration. Many seemed totally unaware of the contents of previous Benghazi reports and testimony. If this had been a conventional courtroom, Clinton’s attorneys could have objected with “asked and answered” and turned the proceedings into 11 hours of tape hiss.
Many of the Republicans also seemed ignorant of how the State Department even functions. Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana showed off a pile of Hillary’s emails pertaining to Libya from 2011 and another from 2012, then insinuated that the much smaller 2012 pile indicated her administrative indifference to the issue. Her case of the piles signaled an unawareness of the face that the State Department conducts the majority of its communications through cables, and that things like telephones exist, and that one of the unfortunate byproducts of conducting business on the telephone is that it doesn’t generate an email afterward. Even the most generous interpretation of her questions can’t elide the fact that the disparity in emails could easily have indicated general conversational traffic about Libya that eventually shifted to the official cable system as the maintenance of the Benghazi compound became more urgent.
Read the rest at Rolling Stone.
From The Washington Post: Clinton’s curse and her salvation: Her enemies, by Karen Tumulty.
Throughout her political career, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s greatest curse — the reaction she provokes in her adversaries — has also been her salvation.
That was proved once again during her 11-hour inquisition by the House Select Committee on Benghazi, a Republican-engineered train wreck from which she emerged without a scratch.
Pale, hoarse and weary as she was, the former secretary of state left the hearing room looking stronger than she has at any point since she announced her second campaign for president.
Naturally, the rest of Villager Tumulty’s piece is a serious of digs, criticisms, and warnings of future stumbles, but she did have to admit that Hillary is doing great at for now.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great weekend!
Tonight’s the night! Hillary Clinton will be center stage for the first Democratic Debate, hosted by CNN. To her right, Bernie Sanders will probably have to wear a suit instead of rolled-up shirt sleeves. The other three spots will be filled by people most Americans have barely heard of: Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee.
Hillary is obviously the most experienced debater of the five, although I imagine Bernie Sanders will be able to hold his own. Can Martin O’Malley increase his visibility and voter recognition? Will Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee be able to explain why they are supposedly running for President? We’ll find out tonight.
We’ll have a live blog tonight beginning around 8PM, and I hope you can join us. It’s always more fun watching these events with friends.
So what are the pundits saying this morning?
Though Clinton and Sanders have rarely mentioned each other’s names, they are clearly reacting to each other and their rival’s potential weaknesses. Sanders took aim at Clinton’s Wall Street record and Iraq vote over the weekend; she put him on the defensive on guns and his poor standing with minority voters.
Until now, they have each had good reason for avoiding full contact with the other. Clinton hasn’t wanted to elevate Sanders and his surprisingly strong poll numbers, while Sanders has wanted to maintain his untraditional, above-the-fray image.
On Tuesday, that calculus will change. And the distinctions they’ve subtly staked out on a range of issues are only likely to grow sharper.
The focus of the article is mostly on ways that Bernie will be able to attack Hillary.
As he limbered up for their clash, Sanders threw down the gauntlet on the Iraq War — a thrust that Clinton has struggled to counter in the past — hinting that she has hawkish views that are out of step with the majority of Democratic voters.
His campaign issued a statement reminding voters that he, then a member of the House of Representatives, voted against authorizing the Iraq war in late 2002. At the time he argued that the conflict would destabilize the Middle East, kill large numbers of Americans and Iraqi civilians and hamper the war on terror against al Qaeda….
“Democrats are no more fond of the Iraq war now than they were back then. That could be a problem,” Peter Beinart, a foreign policy expert and CNN contributor, said Monday. He added that another Democratic candidate, former Virginia senator and Vietnam war veteran Jim Webb, who was also against the war, could double-team with Sanders to cause trouble for Clinton on the issue.
Sanders has also been staking out territory to Clinton’s left on Syria. The former secretary of state recently distanced herself from Obama’s much-criticized policy on the vicious civil war by calling for a no-fly zone to be set up to shield refugees.
Sanders issued a statement earlier this month pointing out that he opposes such an idea, warning that it could “get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never ending entanglement in that region.”
Fine, but Hillary’s Iraq vote was a very long time ago. Right now, she has laid out specific policy proposals to deal with America’s present-day domestic problems. Tonight, she’ll get a chance to explain her policies. Will Bernie have specifics about how he plans to achieve his ambitious policy goals?
CNN is still fantasizing about getting Joe Biden on stage tonight. They supposedly have a podium ready for him if he shows up at the last minute. Last night Stephen Colbert poked fun at CNN’s “Biden fever.” Read about it and watch the clip at the Washington Post.
The New York Times’ Amy Chozick had an interesting article on Hillary as debater on Friday: In Debate, Hillary Clinton Will Display Skills Honed Over a Lifetime.
When Hillary Rodham’s high school government teacher in Park Ridge, Ill., insisted she play the role of Lyndon B. Johnson in a mock debate of the 1964 presidential election, she protested.
Ms. Rodham, one of the school’s standout debaters, was a proud Barry Goldwater supporter (she wore a hat with an “AuH2O” logo) and an active member of the Young Republicans. But the teacher, Jerry Baker, was intent on challenging her to argue the other side.
Always a dutiful student, she agreed, settling into the library to pore for hours over Johnson’s positions on civil rights, foreign policy and health care. She prepared with such ardor and delivered such a compelling case that she even convinced herself. By the time Ms. Rodham graduated from college, she was a Democrat.
Chozick notes that Hillary is a genuine policy wonk.
The first Democratic primary debate Tuesday on CNN will provide Mrs. Clinton with an opportunity to present her policies to voters — policies that have been largely overshadowed in the news media by developments over her use of private email at the State Department and by the rise of her insurgent opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
But more important, the debate — perhaps more than any late-night appearances or social media gambit — will provide Mrs. Clinton with the largest platform yet to make a connection with voters and show off her genuine passion for policy.
“It’s who she is at her core,” said Patti Solis Doyle, who was an aide to Mrs. Clinton from 1991 to 2008 and managed her last presidential campaign. “She’s an avid studier. She does her homework. She’s a massive preparer.”
The characteristics that viewers will see in Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday are in many ways the same ones that Mr. Baker spotted in his ambitious high school student a half-century ago.
Read much more at the link.
Here’s a hilarious headline from today’s Washington Post: Hillary Clinton’s declining image numbers inch upward. The article itself is quite revealing (emphasis added). The charts are from the article by Philip Bump.
This is the story of Hillary Clinton’s favorability that’s usually told: a steep and accelerating drop over time.
New polling data from The Washington Post and ABC News, though, paints a different picture. Since August, Clinton’s approval rating is . . . up slightly, to 47 percent from 45 percent. Her net favorability — the percentage of people who view her positively minus those who view her negatively — is up six points.
Clinton’s net favorability didn’t change among Democrats, we’ll note, while both Bernie Sanders and non-candidate-and-maybe-never-candidate Joe Biden saw improvements with Democrats. Clinton gained with independents — and Republicans, where she essentially had nowhere to go but up. Biden saw the biggest gain in net favorability with Republicans, though, gaining 12 points.
Clinton and Biden both saw improvements in their favorability and declines in their unfavorable numbers. For Sanders, the picture was different. Since August, both his favorable and unfavorable numbers increased by about the same amount, nine and eight points, respectively, among registered voters, even as he became much better known….
We’ll note that, for her recent improvement, Clinton is still the least positively viewed Democrat among the three that poll the highest. At least on net. She is also the most popular Democrat among Democrats, with 79 percent favorability to Biden’s 72 and Sanders’s 47. It’s just that she’s viewed far worse by Republicans.
Gee, I wonder why Biden’s favorability has improved so much among Republicans? /s
How have the candidates been preparing for tonight’s debate? Politico claims to have the lowdown on what Clinton and Sanders have been up to. In the article on Clinton, you have to look for informative tidbits scattered through the Hillary hate. Inside Hillary Clinton’s debate prep.
Her debate strategy is now expected to be two-pronged, according to campaign officials and people with knowledge of the debate preparations: She will attempt to embrace some of Sanders’ ideals while dismissing his solutions, and simultaneously try for a third time to introduce herself to the American public and explain her rationale for running.
She will arrive on the Las Vegas debate stage having poured over briefing books that underscore Sanders’ problematic gun control votes, like his lack of support for the Brady Act, which established mandatory checks on gun sales, and his vote for the 2005 law that gave protection to firearm manufacturers from lawsuits filed by victims and their families. (She also unveiled her own specific gun control policies Monday, just eight days ahead of the debate.)
She is also expected to hold her ground on any attacks that question her fight for progressive values, and hammer home the point that it’s not about great rhetoric or speeches, it’s about results and who can deliver them.
Clinton’s team has also discussed how to inject skepticism into the minds of viewers by questioning how her challenger plans to pay for trillions of dollars in new initiatives he has proposed (The Wall Street Journal tallied his proposals to cost $18 trillion over 10 years), sources said.
The article had little to say about Hillary’s actual debate prep methods, but there’s a more informative article at Glamour Magazine by Jackie Kucinich. It’s an interview with Neera Tanden, who helped prepare Hillary for the debates in 2008. It’s well worth reading. According to Tanden, Hillary likes to participate in mock debates and practice question and answer sessions. She is always very well versed on the issues.
Politico on Bernie Sanders’ “unorthodox debate prep”:
Hillary Clinton has had aides lined up to run her debate prep for months. A Washington super lawyer is mimicking Bernie Sanders, and her top policy staffer is acting as Martin O’Malley.
Sanders started studying for next Tuesday’s event not even a full week ago. And that’s because his two top aides sat him down in Burlington on Friday and asked whether he had a plan.
Sanders has briefing books, a couple of meetings with policy experts and an abiding aversion to the idea of acting out a debate before it happens. He knows the stakes are high, his staff says. But the candidate, whose New Hampshire polling and fundraising prowess have put a scare into Clinton, is uninterested in going through the motions of typical debate practice.
The Vemont senator’s debate preparations, in other words, don’t look a ton like debate preparations.
While CNN is billing the event as a showdown, Sanders’ team sees the first Democratic debate as a chance to introduce a fairly niche candidate to a national audience. So his team intends to let him do what he’s been doing. Far from preparing lines to deploy against Clinton — let alone O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb — Sanders plans to dish policy details, learned through a handful of briefings with experts brought in by his campaign.
Hmmmm….I’m just wondering if he’ll have any specifics about how to implement and pay for his proposed policies. It sounds like he’ll mostly be arguing that he’s the best because he opposed the Iraq War, the pipeline, and the TPP “from day one.” We’ll find out tonight, I guess.
I couldn’t find anything about Chafee’s or Webb’s preparations, but Huffington Post has a short piece on Martin O’Malley: Martin O’Malley’s Spin On Debate Prep: An Open Mic Night In Vegas.
O’Malley’s last best chance to become a factor in the race arrives on Tuesday night, when he is set to share a debate stage here with Clinton and Sanders. His goal will be a simple one: to introduce himself in a positive light — with a particularly well-timed one-liner or two as an added bonus — to the millions of Democratic voters who still have no idea who he is.
Many of them may end up liking what they see, as O’Malley’s relative youth and executive experience presents an immediate contrast to his better-known rivals.
As we discovered when we spent a day on the campaign trail with him in Sin City last week, O’Malley is a more compelling figure than his relatively anonymous profile would suggest.
Sure, he can still eat lunch at a strip mall Subway without any substantial risk that he might be recognized, as he did with our cameras rolling. But O’Malley is also able to boast of having complied a host of progressive accomplishments during his tenure in Annapolis on issues ranging from gun control to immigration reform and beyond.
Oh, and he can really sing, too, as he showed us during his guitar-picking open mic night performance on a rainy evening at a dimly lit bar in downtown Vegas.
Okay…..nothing too substantive there.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and don’t forget to come back tonight for the debate live blog!