Hillary Clinton's Email Scandal Feels All Too Familiar. That's Why It's Hurting Her So Much.

The Democratic frontrunner has handled the issue badly, and in the process has dredged up bad memories of Clinton scandals past.



When news broke earlier this year that Hillary Clinton had exclusively relied on a privately run email server during her time as Secretary of State, likely in violation of government guidelines, few thought the story would ultimately do much damage to Clinton's presidential campaign.

She was too strong, too widely known, too well-funded, too inevitable, for a complicated story about government email and classification procedures to make an impact. Yes, it would shadow her campaign with the hint of impropriety, but that's all. The email issue looked rather like every Clinton mini-scandal going back for decades. Those stories had always failed to do serious damage to the Clintons in the past; this time would be no different.

But as the months have dragged on, it's become clear that the email story is not going away, and that it has become a major liability. In multiple recent polls, Clinton's approval numbers have dropped—not just in line with what was generally expected as her campaign wore on, but to levels low enough that have to worry the campaign and its supporters.

As polling analyst Nate Cohn writes in a perceptive piece for The New York Times, "For the first time in Mrs. Clinton's two decades in national politics, more Americans see her unfavorably than favorably." That means her numbers are lower now than in the 2008 Democratic primary—which, obviously, she lost. Clinton, Cohn notes, is not just sinking amongst Republicans and independents, she's bleeding good will within her own party as well.

Cohn pins the sharpness of Clinton's drop on the email scandal, and there's good reason to believe that it is, at the very least, a major factor. As Chris Cilizza notes in The Washington Post, a recent Post/ABC News poll found that only about a third of voters think she's handled the issue well, followed government rules regarding email, or told the full truth about her email usage. A solid majority—54 percent—think she's tried to "cover up" facts about the story. Add this to the recent survey finding that the word most commonly associated with Clinton is "liar," and you have a picture of a candidate who is perceived as deeply untrustworthy. 

One thing this suggests, I think, is that Hillary's problem is not so much the email story itself, but how she's handled it.

Over and over again, she has made demonstrably untrue statements in response to the story—that she only wanted to carry one device, even though she admitted to carrying two; that the email server she kept in her New York home had private communications from Bill Clinton, even though he doesn't use email; that there was no classified email on her personal email account, even though, of course, there was.

And when Clinton has not been misleading people about details pertinent to the email story, she has responded with a combination of entitlement and dismissiveness, insisting that she had gone "above and beyond" the government's transparency requirements even though she was just barely following the law, and joking, awkwardly, about the story, as if it were all some lark, not something to be concerned about.

In the process, Clinton's flippant, misleading handling of the email issue has exacerbated the damage the email story has done to her campaign by highlighting what was supposed to make it another non-issue: the wearying sense of familiarity of the scandal and the Clintonian political dramas surrounding it. In addition to the evasions and arrogance, there's an FBI investigation, a parade of familiar Clinton-world hangers-on defending her operation (often badly), a seemingly endless GOP investigation in Congress, a technical aide who has pleaded the Fifth, the vague suggestion that there might be lawbreaking involved, somehow, if not by Clinton herself then by her aides.

Instead of fading away and leaving relatively little impact, then, it seems likely to me the email story is holding on, and continuing to do damage, in large part because it so perfectly resembles past Clinton scandals, and thus reinforces existing impressions of Clinton as a shady political operator while simultaneously serving as a warning that this sort of thing is more or less inevitable with a Clinton presidency. Maybe this particular story will eventually fade away too, or ultimately prove to be different in some substantial way, but for now it all seems very much the same—and that, I suspect, is why it's hurting her campaign so much. 

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  1. When news broke earlier this year that Hillary Clinton had exclusively relied on a privately run email server during her time as Secretary of State, likely in violation of government guidelines


    1. Gotta watch out for that public official libel now, lawsuits are expensive! Remember kids; ALLEGEDLY and we're constitutional!

  2. Hillary Clinton simply isn't a good politician. Her entire position is due to marrying a very able politician that could get covered in shit and come out smelling like roses.

    Think about this: Hillary has been in the national public consciousness for 25 years. This creates a perception that she's competent when in fact 10 of those years were entirely due to who she married and the rest due to her leveraging her husband's influence to win a Senate seat and eventually a cabinet position.

    She has never won a competitive election in her life. This whole pathetic spectacle shows exactly why. The only way she wins this is because the Democratic Party is so weak that there's simply no one else they can field that won't get slaughtered next year.

    1. I see some version of this over and over again from her supporters. She's "competent", "tough", "experienced", "savvy". Nobody ever backs it up with an example.

      In 1993, she went before Congress as part of the Hillarycare debacle and was given a full Lewinski by the representatives. None of them had ever seen someone so smart, so capable, so certain to do wonderful things.

      Then, her proposal was DOA in a Democrat-controlled Congress. It wasn't Democrat controlled for long, they lost 52 seats in 1994. Such is Hillary's competence.

      When you are 21, running on your smarts and your potential is all you have. When you are 68, we expect a resume that doesn't list positions held. We expect accomplishments. She has none.

      1. Hey she improved relations with Myanmar.

    2. I agree she isn't a good politician herself, but I also think that Bill would never have been president without her. I think that a) he would have been happy being gov of Arkansas and b) he doesn't have the taste for the vicious part of politics.

      Together they were a good team. Bill was likeable and great at retail politics. Hillary was wonderful at being the hatchet woman in the background who was willing to make sure people got with the program - or else.

      The problem they have is that they don't seem to realize that you can't flip the components and have the dynamic continue to work. The person who made lots of enemies as the hatchet woman can not become the friendly face of the campaign. The happy person can also not become the behind the scenes enforcer.

      My only theory is that the only person who doesn't realize this is Hillary herself and no one wants to be the person who has to tell her to drop out. She is still as vicious as ever and if ever there is going to be a kill the messenger moment, that would be it.

    3. She has very poor political skills too and a tin ear for how she comes across. This is the woman who defended her vote as senator to invade Iraq throughout most the 2008 Democratic primary. That was an automatic disqualifier for many primary voters, yet she never seemed to grasp this. When she finally did renounce the vote, it was clearly her bending to pressure, so that didn't do her much good either.

  3. it has not gone away because Hillary is not Bill. You knew he was a lying sack of shit but, at the same time, you would have a beer with him and laugh a bit. There is no charm, no charisma, hell..no personality that comes out of Hillary. A large segment has never liked her; the only difference is that the dislike has now spread into new territory.

  4. I'd kind of like to see Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina in a one-on-one debate.
    Something tells me Hillary would be revealed as the shrill, venal harridan she truly is.

  5. Pretty much, the only defense I've seen of Clinton recently said the exact words "All Clinton Scandals Are Made Up By Republicans" and nothing else. The party faithfuls are at the point that they can't even come up with a reason this isn't a real scandal anymore. They can just repeat lines that most commenters have seen disproven twenty times already. If Bernie doesn't do something to tank himself or if Biden joins in there is no way she will win the Dem primaries. The Dem base is just to desperate for someone with relatively clean hands.

    1. Bernie won't tank himself, the Dem machine will do that for him. The problem with Bernie is that he actually means what he says. Sanders threatens the gravy train that has made the Dems the party of Wall St and they are not going to tolerate some cranky old guy derailing that system. There is a reason why so much attention has been paid to Biden.

      1. That's my read as well which really is sad since Bernie really does have principles even though I disagree with them.

  6. As far back as 1993, when she was appointed by her husband to design the "Hillarycare" healthcare reform proposal, she claimed that all the documentation of her decisionmaking was private and could not be released to the American people. Basing this decision on the notion that she was not a government employee was probably a mistake, as it highlighted the quasi-public nature of her role as the wife of the President with no official government position.

    For most of us, we first saw her on 60 Minutes defending Bill against the Ginnifer Flowers accusations. Our first impression was: she's lying. She was. And our impression turns out to have been borne out again and again and again.

  7. And-
    Hillary's weird fanatical thousand yard Joan of Arc stare creeps me the fuck out.

    1. I think you'd have the same stare (and probably a facial tic too) if you had to sit by while some charming hick from Arkansas became president while you couldn't win a national election to save your life.

      Especially since the hick wouldn't have become president if not for you. Why won't the US yokels realize how smart you are and elect you president? Why do you lose to idiots?

      It also explains her heavy drinking.

  8. And like many of the earlier Clinton scandals, the emails are the tip of the iceberg. What was she hiding in those emails? How did she and Bill make a couple hundred million dollars while she was SecState? Where his outlandish fees contingent of foreign policy decisions?

    1. not to mention all those donations that come in since her announcement to run. I'm sure the various folks writing those checks are doing it purely out of goodwill.

      1. And, of course, the fact that the Clinton Foundation has been found to donate very little money to actual charity. Even the NYT outed it as a giant slush fund, essentially making those "charitable donations" into in-kind campaign contributions...but of course they're not legally classified that way because the Clintons know how to work a loophole when it comes to their own money.

  9. Was the "Lawbreaking" link supposed to go to the Politico profile of Hugh Hewitt?

  10. Also, the Nate Cohn story @ the NYT has like 500 comments by people whose only concern is "WHY NO MENTION OF BERNIE??" and repeating the Fake Skandal mantra.

    So i think he got his actual point across to absolutely no one on Team Blue

    1. "500 comments"

      ok like 132.

      I swear it was 300 when i glanced at it before. I BLAME SPARTA

    2. " Matthew Brian Hersh Highland Park, NJ 22 hours ago

      NO mention of Bernie Sanders, who has taken the lead in some polls? Instead, continued ruminating on Biden, who is not a declared candidate and will likelyl not enter the race That's pretty incredible of the NYT.

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      Fullonfog Redwood Coast 22 hours ago

      Two words conspicuously missing from this piece: Bernie Sanders.


      Edwin Oakland Gardens, NY 22 hours ago

      "Does Vice President Joe Biden have an opening?" Really? How about Bernie Sanders? Could it be that her slip in the polls is because of him? Come on NY Times, stop ignoring him already and get with it.


      Siobhan is a trusted commenter New York 22 hours ago

      I really feel like the NYT is almost taunting Sanders supporters at this point. OK, I'll bite.

      Why do you not even mention Sanders in this article?


      T Hawkins NJ 22 hours ago

      Not a mention of Bernie Sanders in the entire article? No thought that maybe part of her falling poll numbers is his rising poll numbers? Remember, as much as it may appear the author thinks otherwise, it is Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden, who is running in opposition to HRC.


      Chandler Carter Hempstead, NY 22 hours ago

      Once again, an analysis of the Democratic race from an established, supposedly objective news source fails even to mention Bernie Sanders. "

      1. the party does not want Sanders and the NYT knows this. Sanders, if nothing else, is honest. He means it in attacking the Wall St / DC nexus, and too much Dem bread is buttered by that link. At least half the country will reflexively oppose Sanders because (I think) socialism remains repulsive to a majority. Many in the other half know that which is why damn near every Dem candidate is portrayed as a moderate or a centrist or some such. But the main thing is that Bernie has his sites set on the left's golden goose.

        1. ""the party does not want Sanders and the NYT knows this.""


          I think the progs need to vent their spleen after Prince Obama failed to deliver them all the toys they were promised for Christmas. If there's anything to enjoy while Trump is consuming all the O2 in the atmosphere, it will be the emerging schizophrenic break that the Left is having. The fact is that Hillary is in fact their *only* possible option for success, but they prefer to remain in denial because their politics are so completely about their own self-perception rather than any engagement with political reality.

        2. At least half the country will reflexively oppose Sanders because (I think) socialism remains repulsive to a majority.

          Let's hope so. I think (or hope) that at least some of the Democratic establishment also knows that his serious policy proposals would mean economic disaster far beyond what they can sweep under the rug and blame on Republicans.

      2. When liberals are calling The NYT biased, you know there is a problem.

  11. I'd say she's handled it as well as she can handle it. Admitting the truth would be an automatic disqualification for political office. So the truth is a non-starter.

    1. ""the truth is a non-starter.""

      Is that a quote? it sounds like something from Charlie Wilson's War

      1. I think it's from the Old Testament. Noah or one the other old jews.

  12. Why would she start telling the truth now? If her lips are moving...........

  13. Fact: Hitlery is a fraud- just another scam artist , just like Trump, Paul and all the rest of the candidates.

    Fact: there are no political solutions for _any_ percieved "problem" ; never have been, never will be - not "right wing", not "left wing" , not even "Ron Paul", or "libertarian" solutions.

    Only more, even worse problems can ever result from any of its/their imagined "solutions".

    Fact: As long as you believe that political solutions really do exist, dear reader, you will remain firmly locked inside "the Matrix"; i.e. exactly where the Obama's, Trumps, Sanders , Pauls, etc. want you to be:-)

    Fact: the author of this article is just another in the endless stream of "inside the matrix" writers doing their utmost to keep you firmly buried/entrenched deep inside that "matrix", by encouraging/flattering yours and others here endless fantasies of dreamed of political "solutions" to yours, the country's, or the world's, problems, when in fact, there are none, can be none, and never have been any 🙂 .

    Regards, onebornfree.

    1. This is just a copy paste of the same-old-stupid? Even Anonbot mixes it up every now and then. Maybe you could try adding some Truther claims, like "Aint No Aluminum Hacksaws!!" type gibberish, just to keep it fresh and interesting.

  14. Over and over again, she has made demonstrably untrue statements in response to the story

    This is not necessarily a liability. We have the precedent of the 1990 primary run of husband Bill Clinton. Every week or two for months the Clinton camp put out "facts" about Clinton's draft status during the Viet Nam war that turned out to be flat out lies. And then when the new fact was disproven, the same news anchor that told us the first version read the new version with the explanation that "this is old news. We've always known that."

    It didn't hurt Bill at all.

  15. It hasn't gone away because almost everyone out there gets that you don't use personal email for business. Literally everyone in a salaried professional position knows this. The only people who use personal email for business are self-employed. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the security issues. You sure as fuck don't use personal email if you work for a defense contractor. And yet here's Hillary, being Secretary of State, and flagrantly violating Department rules in a way that would get most people fired. It's a massive double standard that shows Hillary thinks she's above doing things that the common people consider routine. And to top it off, then she refuses to take it seriously. Months of doing the hand-wavy "not a real issue" thing just made it more and MORE of an issue, because it displayed this highly arrogant attitude that she shouldn't be held the the same standards as normal people.

    1. Also, most people wouldn't even WANT to use personal email for business. It's easier to just use the email address that your company assigns. Hillary had to go way out of her way to set up a personal email server so she wouldn't have to. The only plausible reason for doing that is because she had something she wanted to hide.

    2. Totally agree. This is one of those things that even non-technical people got.

      Everyone who has ever been assigned an email address got the simple message of use this for all your work emails.

      On the flip side, everyone also understands exactly why you set up an outside email account. You set up a gmail account to send those pics of the free public fleshlight to all your cool coworkers and not end up running afoul of HR.

    3. Also, her excuse that the private server was used for convenience, coupled with her saying that she was so busy fixing all of the world's problems that she wasn't really thinking about e-mail, is insulting even to Dems. And these comments by her were all scripted, which is even more astounding to anyone not completely in the tank for her.

    4. I generally agree with your points, but think you forgot to mention one. You sure as !$#@ don't use personal email if you're dealing with classified information. Mishandling classified information can destroy your career or, in the extreme case, get you criminally prosecuted (with the associated risk of getting sent to jail). See Peter Van Buren, David Petraeus, Bryan Nishimura, Lyle White, and Jason Brezler ... to name just a few.

  16. I think Cohn puts too much of an emphasis on the email scandal as the source of her falling numbers. There are other things. Over the same period she has steadfastly refused to take a clear position on the administration's trade agenda, including Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite having been Obama's secretary of state.

    The left has always been anti-trade and the unions and the Elizabeth Warren wing of the party particularly loathe TPA & TPP. Yet Clinton has refused to weigh in even after groups like the AFL-CIO demanded that she clarify her position. She doesn't want to alienate the party's big business donors and she assumes the left has nowhere to go but her.

    For the liberals that really oppose these things -- and there are a lot of them, however misguided they may be -- that is probably enough to say, "Screw it. I'm backing Bernie."

  17. One reason the story isn't going away is that she can't undo her lies that are at the heart of it ("one device for convenience", "no classified material") without disqualifying herself.

    In the end, though, I think the electorate just isn't that into her. Her time spent scheming for power has been very successful yet like many others she will be deprived of the ultimate prize. Tough shit.

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  19. Although there is an element of "Clinton fatigue" in Hillary's drop in the polls, I think anyone in politics who bumbled their way through this issue with lies and such a dismissive sense of entitlement would be in trouble.

    In fact, it may only be the long term loyalists and a supine media that are keeping her afloat at all. .

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