There are two ostensibly negative media storylines regarding the Clinton campaign at this point: Her rocky relationship with the press; and the surging popularity of her rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders. Needless to say, just about every media analyst is warning that the Clinton camp needs to change course in order to deal with these two developing stories. Of course, they are wrong. At this point in the campaign, stories about the frustrations of journalists with the Clinton campaign and the surging Sanders campaign are not just harmless for Clinton, they may even be helpful.
The idea that voters will be turned off to Clinton because of her mistreatment of the press is actually quite comical given the very low opinion Americans presently have of members of the fourth estate. Bernie Sanders’ surging campaign is energizing the Democratic Party’s progressive base, which allows Hillary to keep her powder dry and to focus on fundraising and positioning herself for the fall campaign. The folks who make a living covering the 2016 presidential race need something to cover, but the voters who will decide the party nominations and the 2016 election haven’t started paying attention yet. In one sense, all this hand wringing and criticism of Clinton is falling on deaf ears, and in another sense it is providing cover for Clinton from another storyline that would be more problematic for her down the stretch; that she is strolling toward a coronation as the liberal darling of the mainstream media.
Because the 2016 general election narrative will be dominated by party-centric (not candidate-centric) themes, Clinton’s apparent indifference to the media and to the progressive base of her party in the very early going will be forgiven, if not forgotten. Because Bernie Sanders is running a policy-focused progressive campaign that has (and presumably will continue to) avoid personal attacks on the eventual nominee, Clinton has the luxury of refusing to engage against Vermont’s progressive crowd pleasing Democratic Socialist senator, who has promised vigorous support for Clinton “if” she defeats him in the nomination contest.
Watching the press try to goad Hillary Clinton into giving them something juicy to cover is rather amusing. I particularly love when pundits try to make news from the lack of news; when they counsel that a candidate like Clinton is hurting themselves by not giving the press what they want. A month ago The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard wrote, “Few are expecting a sudden shift from the foot-dragging candidate who has eschewed positions on pressing policy matters and preferred politically comfy platitudes, but perhaps Clinton will surprise everyone at her final, official launch at Roosevelt Island in New York City.” This week all the Hillary headlines are about her use of rope to keep the press at bay as she marched in a 4th of July parade, and the story line is that Hillary is running an elitist campaign and that her mistreatment of the press will come back to haunt her campaign going forward.
Secretary Clinton’s present tact is safe and prudent, not only because she doesn’t have a viable opponent, but also because it allows her to continue to marshal her resources, gather intelligence, and to focus on the big picture. She well understands that all the early polling data being used to pretend she is vulnerable is nonsense. She is firmly established as a candidate in the minds of the voters. There is no critical block of undecided voters out there right now that she will need that will be turned off by her “foot-dragging” and, “comfy platitudes” or her mistreatment of the media.
Ultimately, efforts by political pundits and journalists to draw out big name candidates are harmless enough. Media pundits have bills to pay too, and these cat and mouse games also provide a sort of test for presidential candidates. If a candidate for president can be goaded into taking unnecessary risks with her campaign, maybe she isn’t the best person to be Commander-in-chief.
Hillary Clinton is extremely well positioned presently and is very wisely adhering to that classic bit of political wisdom, “[n]ever write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” Right now for Hillary Clinton less is more, whether the media likes it or not.