Hillary Clinton’s Tenure At Foggy Bottom Could Be A Campaign Liability

Far from being a positive, Hillary Clinton's time as Secretary of State provides ample material for those who would attack her over the next eighteen months.

Hillary Clinton Blackberry

National Journal’s S.V. Date notes that what once seemed as though it was likely to be Hillary Clinton’s greatest asset heading into the 2016 election could end up becoming her greatest liability:

What she accomplished substantively in her four years at State is a matter of debate, but one thing she definitely improved was her public image. Americans who’d watched her grueling, ultimately losing campaign against a younger, more junior Senate colleague were impressed.

The steady, head-down job radiated confidence. There she was in Moscow, working to rebuild the relationship with Russia. Or in China, negotiating the release of a blind dissident lawyer who had sought refuge in the American embassy. Or in Myanmar, becoming the first U.S. secretary of State to visit in more than a half century.

Just two years later, so much of that seems a distant memory. Her approval numbers have tanked, but perhaps even more damaging: What had been the key achievement on her resume now cannot be mentioned without raising questions of pay-to-play and deleted emails.

The respect she earned from visiting a record 112 nations? The admiration for the million air miles she logged in those four years, including those aboard that cavernous C-17 that’s now her signature image? Gone, replaced instead with reminders of the Hillary Clinton of years past, the first lady deflecting or obfuscating—sometimes for her husband, sometimes on her own behalf; sometimes it was impossible to discern which.

“This is not the launch they wanted,” said David Winston, a GOP consultant who worked for House Speaker Newt Gingrich in those earlier days. “Because of the way she’s done it, she’s let these things be the dominant issues.”

Call it squandered goodwill—made worse by the knowledge that these were unforced errors. The Clinton Foundation could have chosen to follow its 2008 “memorandum of understanding” with the Obama Transition Team to the letter. Former President Bill Clinton could have foregone taking speaking fees from clients with business before the State Department. Hillary Clinton could have conducted her official duties using official equipment and official email accounts—and then let career service professionals decide which emails were public business and which were not.

The first decision goes to her relationship with her husband, and whether she could have controlled his activities even if she’d wanted to. And the second is no doubt a function of living decades under a harsh media microscope. Keeping things secret likely seemed much more attractive than having political opponents rummaging around searching for new scandal.

To some extent, of course, the hagiographic praise that Clinton was receiving as Secretary of States from both sides of the political aisle was unlikely to last in any case. To a large degree, it was due to the fact that her position largely kept her out of the domestic political battles that were going on in the nation from 2009 to 2013, combined with the fact that many Republicans and conservatives seemed to be praising Clinton largely as a backhanded way of attacking Obama. Once it became clear, though, that she was not only leaving Foggy Bottom but that she was obviously headed for a second run for the Presidency in 2016, the cease fire that had been in existence came to a quick and decisive end. The first example of that, of course, was the reaction to the attack in Benghazi in September 2012 and the efforts by Republicans on Capitol Hill to use the scandal as a political cudgel both against the President and against the Democrat who seemed most likely to be running to succeed him in November 2016. This effort reached its apex in the final days of Clinton’s tenure at the State Department when she appeared before a Senate Committee investigating the Benghazi attack and was subjected to harsh questioning from Republican members that, in the end, failed to do much other than score partisan points. Since then, Republicans have not dropped the Benghazi matters, and indeed seem intent on continuing the Congressional investigations well into next year.

Beyond these partisan attacks, though, it seems quite apparent that Clinton’s own errors and missteps are likely to make it difficult for her to rely on her experience as Secretary of State as a purely positive thing on her record, and that each time she brings it up she will give her opponents the opportunity to bring up other, less palatable aspects of her time in office. Her decision to use a private email server beyond the control of the State Department, and outside of government security protocols for her private correspondence, for example, may have been within the strictures of the regulations that were in place at the time, but it tends to reinforce the idea that she had something to hide. The fact that, on top of that she used her own people to determine which emails to turn over to State Department, and then to delete some 30,000 other pieces of correspondence, virtually guarantees that people will continue to ask questions about what she may have decided not to share. Similarly, the revelations last week regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton’s apparent failure to abide by the terms of an agreement made with the White House when Clinton took office, are the kind of story that are unlikely to go away regardless of whether or not there is a smoking gun. The evidence that these stories have had an impact on Clinton can be seen in recent polling, which shows voters tend to find Clinton to be untrustworthy even though they think she has strong leadership skills. This is all largely the result of Clinton’s own doing, and it’s the reason why many have observed that she may well be her own worst enemy.

In addition to these problems, though, Clinton’s time as Secretary of State could end up being problematic for her due to the fact that she was in office at a time when American foreign policy seemed to be falling apart. The attempt to reset relations with Russia, for example, which got off to an odd start with Clinton presenting her Russian counterpart with a symbolic “reset button” seems to be an abject failure, with Vladimir Putin blatantly intervening in Ukraine and otherwise ramping up tensions with Europe and the United States. The American intervention in Libya, which Clinton fully supported, has accomplished little but turn Libya into a haven of chaos and violence and a breeding ground for terrorist groups that seem likely to have the capability to threaten North Africa and, potentially Europe, for years to come. Much the same can be said about the Obama Administration’s policies elsewhere in the world while Clinton was Secretary of State, and while she has made clear in her book areas where she disagreed with the President, she was the face of that foreign policy and its primary spokesperson. Given the state of the world, it seems odd that she would consider it a good thing to remind people that she was in charge of foreign policy for the first half of the Obama Administration.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    The trouble with modern American politics is highlighted here. If you have experience, if you have accomplishments, if you have any long term activities at all, then you are considered not to have assets but liabilities.

    The entire process is geared toward attacking and tearing down. The result is that we get one term senators, total neophytes to politics, and anyone else with a small and insignificant record being considered Presidential material.

    It is all backwards.

  2. cd6 says:

    Hillary could have spent four years wandering the earth, laying her hands upon the ill and dying, miraculously curing them of all their perils, and the jackwagons running for the 2016 republican primary would still find reason to criticize her. They will find literally any reason to attack her. And Doug will gamely report it.

    “Hillary says sky is blue”
    “Republicans call Hillary a liar, say sky has run red with the blood of Four Americans she let die in Benghazi”
    “Disagreement exists on color of the sky” says Doug.

    Here’s the thing: she still crushes the field in polling, because the GOP has been attacking Hillary for 25 years. Nobody cares any more. And those guys are mostly one term, do nothing senators (Cruz, Rubio, Paul) or goveners of states in decline (Walker, Jindal, etc). Who has 4 years of glorious success on the other side?

    The thing that interests me the most is the potential that “Hillary scandal” might actually immunize her from an actual scandal, should one come up. Because Fox News is already dialed up to 11 over emails or whatever it is today, so its not like they can go higher.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    It may well be a liability among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway. What she has going for her are the loose canons in the Republican clown car. The only possible exception is Rand Paul and he will be taken out by the big money folks fairly quickly.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    @cd6:

    “Hillary says sky is blue”
    “Republicans call Hillary a liar, say sky has run red with the blood of Four Americans she let die in Benghazi”
    “Disagreement exists on color of the sky” says Doug.

    Brilliant. And so true. Especially Doug’s take. Brilliant.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Her decision to use a private email server beyond the control of the State Department, and outside of government security protocols for her private correspondence, for example, may have been within the strictures of the regulations that were in place at the time, but it tends to reinforce the idea that she had something to hide.

    Why is it that “having something to hide” is only a liability for Clinton? That ALL have something to hide, and they ALL do, but somehow or other it’s OK for the rest. Is it because they are men? Or, more likely in my opinion, it’s OK because they aren’t Clintons.

  6. Tony W says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Is it because they are men? Or, more likely in my opinion, it’s OK because they aren’t Clintons.

    It’s because they aren’t Fox-TP Republicans.

  7. Hal_10000 says:

    @Scott:

    Or … if you have experience, you are accountable for things you messed up. There were several foreign policy blunders on Clinton’s watch, notably the Libya intervention. These things happened. If she’s going to site her experience as SOS, then simple common sense says that she’s accountable for things that went wrong. “Experience” also means “baggage”. It always has, it always will. This is not unique to Clinton. It’s a big reason I’d oppose any of the architects of the Iraq War running on the GOP side.

    Now you can argue, if you want, that she did more good on balance. Or you can argue that, despite those blunders, she’s still better than the alternative. Or you can argue that they weren’t blunders at all. But you can’t argue that her experience as Secretary of State makes her qualified but any mistakes she made are just Evil Republican Partisanship.

  8. Scott says:

    @Hal_10000: I wasn’t arguing anything WRT Hillary Clinton. I was just making an observation on our political system which is that experience, including baggage, is considered a much larger liability than no experience at all. Which is why people like Rubio, Cruz, Paul, Carson, and yes, Obama, can run for the top job and get serious attention.

    It is a commentary on news media, pundit class, etc.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @cd6:
    Well said.

  10. EddieInCA says:

    Stop it Doug.

    Just effing stop it.

    Who – who is going to vote for Hillary anyway – is going to be swayed by the latest GOP attack?

    We are talking about a candidate with almost 100% name recognition, who has been vetted for the last 25 years in real time.

    Who in the GOP clown car has a path to 270 electoral votes?

    The Democratic Party has three aces in their sleeves. Lousiana, Kansas, and Wisconsin. All three have 100% GOP control. All three are trending in the wrong direction.

    On the other hand, look at California. All it took for us to solve our fiscal problems was a 2/3 Democratic majority and a Dem Governor. Once we got rid of the GOP obstruction, we got rid of the deficit and created a surplus. How? A few targeted tax raises, and some smart cuts.

    It’s not hard. It’s math.

    The problem is now, and has been recently, is that the GOP doesn’t believe in real math, as their budgets are fantasyland dreams.

    But nevermind that the last GOP President and GOP congress put in place policies that caused the biggest reccession since the depression. Let’s instead focus on Hillary’s time at the State Department – not her policies as President to be.

  11. stonetools says:

    @cd6:

    This is such a complete dissection of Doug’s analysis of Hillary Clinton that we should simply save it as a macro and run it every time Doug posts on Clintion.
    Sadly Doug speaks for almost the entire pundit class when he engages in this kind of “report the controversy” analysis.
    As to the comments on the Obama foreign policy,you could have and should have noted that Obama and Clinton inherited a disaster and improved things to “difficult. ” That’s a defensible record and not to be sniffed at. Simply think of what President John McCain would have done or what President Ted Cruz would do to put the Obama foreign poilcy in the right context.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    To me it’s very simple question: Is there a single Democratic voter who, in the absence of a REAL scandal, would not vote for Hillary Clinton?

    Republicans desperately hope that one these things – Benghazi, Cash for Uranium Rights, Foreign Money for Clinton Foundation – becomes an ACTUAL scandal. We’ll have to see, won’t we? Until then Republicans are in their usual Clinton induced post traumatic stress mode.

  13. humanoid.panda says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Or … if you have experience, you are accountable for things you messed up. There were several foreign policy blunders on Clinton’s watch, notably the Libya intervention. These things happened. If she’s going to site her experience as SOS, then sim – See more at: https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/hillary-clintons-tenure-at-foggy-bottom-could-be-a-campaign-liability//#comments

    I totally agree with you that Lybia was a terrible mistake, and I hope someone holds her feet to the fire on that one. Still, the fact is that no one seems to be attacking her on her liberal inteventionism, or that R2P nonsense; to the extent Lybia is a campaign item, it’s all about Benghazi!!!

  14. qtip says:

    On the other hand, look at California. All it took for us to solve our fiscal problems was a 2/3 Democratic majority and a Dem Governor.

    CA does have some odd tax laws though. E.g. $800 minimum tax on LLCs … so if you have $1 in CA income regardless of where your LLC is based, you pay $800 in CA taxes.

  15. stonetools says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Even the “Libya is a disaster” isdea is based on :

    1. Hindsight

    2. The idea that current Libya is the worst it could be.

    As an alternate history buff, I could easily imagine a much worse Libya than this one. In fact, I don’t have to imagine it; I could just look at Syria.
    Hey, Doug, Obama did for Syria just what you thought he should do for Libya: he was completely hands off.
    Now , you may have noticed that Syria is not now a haven of peace and happiness. Not only is it worse off than Libya in every way, but the Syrian War has spread into neighboring countries and had sucked in nearly every player in the region, including the US.

    So, now it’s not really that clear to me that Obama’s Libya policy is all that terrible. I admit its not a success, but this is the Middle East: things could always have been worse. The main thing is that it was a failed gamble that cost the US very little. That’s the point of gambles: they often fail. I think a President McClain, Romney or Cruz would have bet much bigger and sunk much more into Libya.
    What’s more, given the current immigration crisis in the Mediterrean, we (meaning NATO) are probably not done with Libya. Stay tuned.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    efforts by Republicans on Capitol Hill to use the (Benghazi) scandal

    WTF, Doug? There was a Benghazi tragedy. There is a huge effort on the Right to pretend there is a Benghaaaazzzi!!!(tm) scandal. But there is no actual Benghazi scandal.

    How long does it take to type “supposed”, or just “”?

  17. gVOR08 says:

    Whatever the GOPs are able to make of her supposed liabilities, picture how she’ll be able to eviscerate a Rubio or Paul or Walker in a foreign policy debate. And Jeb too.