Politico has a long form piece on Clinton’s handling of the email controversy today that is engrossing and fascinating, in spite of the fact that it was written in part by Glenn Thrush. It is perhaps not a surprise that Politico would have outstanding access to the Clinton campaign’s inner circle, and as a result they were able to put together a fascinating introspective on the campaign’s handling of the email gate scandal from day one. I know this is cliche to say in this day and age, but you really should read the whole thing.
It’s immensely relevant even though, by happenstance, the piece dropped on a day in which the scandal got much worse for Team Clinton:
The only item missing from the secret e-mail server run by Hillary Clinton appears to be the welcome mat for hackers. According to the Associated Press, the Clintons set up remote-control operations of its server without ever bothering to build in the normal security that would accompany those functions in a professional setting — if one could even find a professional setting that would allow those functions to operate at all:
Clinton’s server, which handled her personal and State Departmentcorrespondence, appeared to allow users to connect openly over the Internet to control it remotely, according to detailed records compiled in 2012. Experts said the Microsoft remote desktop service wasn’t intended for such use without additional protective measures, and was the subject of U.S. government and industry warnings at the time over attacks from even low-skilled intruders.
Just in case any hackers missed the “Open House” sign on the unlocked front door, the Clintons left two back doors unlocked, too:
Records show that Clinton additionally operated two more devices on her home network in Chappaqua, New York, that also were directly accessible from the Internet. One contained similar remote-control software that also has suffered from security vulnerabilities, known as Virtual Network Computing, and the other appeared to be configured to run websites.
No self-respecting network administrator would have allowed those openings to go without extraordinary security in place, or at least a VPN. In fact, the State Department had already banned the use of such remote access software on even its unclassified systems without a specific waiver allowing their use. They don’t even allow the waivers for overseas systems.
Here’s the fascinating thing about the Politico piece and what it illustrates about the Clinton mindset: the Clintons really and truly perceive themselves as a persecuted class. Hillary, if Politico’s reporting can be believed, legitimately does not understand why anyone would be upset by what she did with respect to her email servers. As in, she actually thinks that this is all ginned up by a shadowy cabal of enemies and that no portion of it is legitimate.
Moreover, the second people in line for blame in Clinton world are her own staff, who she clearly blames for not figuring out a way to make this go away. At numerous points in the Politico article Clinton openly trashes senior members of her staff to donors, and is portrayed as someone who is equally paranoid about the staffers she inherited from Obama as she is about the press, who she (incredibly) thinks are out to get her.
Buried in the piece, however, is the most important piece of information about Clinton’s campaign: the revelation that, unlike in 2008, Bill Clinton is playing a heavy handed role in the campaign and that he clearly has Hillary’s ear in terms of strategy. This revelation accounts for the fact that Hillary is likely screwed in the long run:
Then there was Bill Clinton. The former president, despite a low-key public role, was in fact already occupying an expansive strategic role in the campaign that had been denied him in 2008 (he participated in at least one critical campaign conference call), according to our sources, and he was offering what seemed to be contradictory advice: He wanted the pushback effort to be much more aggressive but also advised his wife to ignore the calls for candor.
“No matter how much you give them, it won’t be enough,” he lectured an ally when the story first came out—as he was fighting back against negative coverage of his charitable foundation. “Just shut it down. … Run your campaign and move on.”
At first blush, it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that Bill Clinton’s expanded role is bad news for the Hillary campaign; after all, the man did win election twice by relatively comfortable margins and left office with pretty good approval ratings in spite of suffering through scores of consecutive scandals. You would think that having such a political voice within the campaign would be a good thing for Hillary’s campaign.
The problem is, Bill (and everyone else left over from the Clinton apparatus) is clearly giving Hillary advice that is meant for a candidate who is exactly like Bill. For whatever reason, the American public ultimately decided that they did not care that Bill Clinton was a liar, or a cheat, or a political bully who abused his power to harass his political opponents. Clinton’s not inconsiderable personal charm ultimately rendered all of that relevant, and the prosperity of the 90s rendered the voting public largely indifferent to his manifold personal weaknesses because they perceived that he was handling the job of being President adequately in spite of them.
Hillary, however, is not Bill. The defining political characteristic of Bill was that people liked him, personally (with the exception of his bitterest political opponents and die hard Republicans). As the Politico piece points out, people dislike Hillary on a personal level almost as intensely as they liked Bill on a personal level. This makes it especially important for Hillary that people find her competent, trustworthy, and at least relatively honest. Hillary simply cannot get away with the stonewalling approach that worked so well for Bill.
But it appears that Hillary appears predisposed to heed this advice more than the advice she was getting from the smart people in her campaign, who advised her (wisely) from the start of this scandal to immediately come clean and get the damage over with. And frankly, I don’t know if Hillary had any choice, given her personality. Even after the forced and awkward apology to Muir, she was immediately afterwards back on the offensive, blaming the whole thing on Republicans and essentially undoing her apology less than 48 hours after she offered it.
Scandals didn’t hurt Bill. They are clearly hurting Hillary. And she, as a candidate, doesn’t know any way to deal with them other than Bill’s way. And that means, ultimately, that she is screwed.