How would you feel if after working in the public eye for 25 years and campaigning your heart out for more than a year, you found out that more people than ever – tens of millions of your fellow Americans, in fact – don’t really like you?
Probably not that great.
But you can say one thing about Hillary Clinton: In the face of a Washington Post/ABC News Poll last week that found a record 56 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable impression of Clinton, she soldiers on. She is unbreakable.
You can also say one other thing about Clinton: The reason she elicits such a negative reaction is the weasel factor.
Whatever their complicated personal relationship, Hillary and Bill Clinton are a political unit. Fast and loose with the truth is the way they play. If they were a football team, they’d be the Patriots.
The weasel factor first emerged with Bill.
Did you ever smoke marijuana?
Weasel answer: Yes, but I didn’t inhale.
Weasel answer: I did not have sex with that woman (because they never copulated).
And so it went for two terms in office.
But Hillary is no slouch when it comes to serial evasiveness and the shading of the truth that colors the public’s perception of the Clintons. And she seems unable to stop herself.
A newly released FBI report into the email scandal that has dogged Clinton said she could not remember briefings about how to preserve federal records that she was given before stepping down as Secretary of State. The report mentions that she had suffered a concussion. How convenient.
The report summarized an interview Clinton had with the FBI in early July. Yahoo News says that during the interview, Clinton answered that she couldn’t remember 38 times. In a recent appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Clinton was asked about the email scandal and whether she was worried whether a newly discovered tranche of emails scheduled to be released before the election might contain some embarrassing revelations.
Weasel answer/quip: “My emails are so boring. I’m embarrassed about that.”
In a focus group discussion with 12 Wisconsin swing voters, conducted late last month by Democratic pollster Peter Hart, all of the assembled viewed Clinton as untrustworthy to varying degrees, with three participants responding “liar” when asked for a single word to characterize her.
If there is one overarching negative that undermines Clinton’s historic candidacy as the first woman nominated for president by a major political party, it’s the weasel factor. The fabrications, exaggerations, dodgy answers – they are all of a piece. And it was her sort of mushy truth that at the start of this election cycle American voters seemed to be saying they will no longer tolerate from its leaders.
That’s what the improbable rise of Bernie Sanders was all about.
But the rejection of political pabulum and the longing for a voice unafraid to be blunt meant the country got Donald Trump. Instead of a truth-teller standing in stark contrast to traditional pols with their tired rhetoric, America wound up with an outrageous outsider willing to say anything and promise everything.
If there is one thing in the WaPo/ABC poll to comfort Clinton, it’s that 63 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable impression of Trump.
If Clinton’s opponent were an able Republican with just a modicum of candor, she would be finished because she is running not only against Trump but the zeitgeist.
Early last summer before Clinton kicked off her campaign with a love-in on Roosevelt Island in New York, the duo that’s running her show, Robby Mook and Jennifer Palmieri, sat for questions from an audience of journalists who were peeved that the candidate was so unavailable to reporters.
The event, moderated by Mike Allen, then of Politico, and underwritten by a corporate sponsor, was an odious massage session in which Mook and Palmieri mollified a press panting for access by making them feel like insiders and promising more openness.
That never happened.
The Washington Post has tallied up how long it’s been since Clinton has held a press conference, and as of Sept. 5, it has been 275 days.
There is a reason for that. When you’re throwing shade, it is ever more evident in the heat of a freewheeling press conference.
When Mook was asked on the MSNBC show Morning Joe why it’s been so long, he said Hillary had done some 300 interviews this year. But as Nicole Wallace, who was communications director for George W. Bush, rightly pointed out, there is a vast difference between a press conference under the hot lights and what are often very brief one-on-ones with ground rules attached.
Still, even in interviews, Clinton can be sketchy.
When the Clintons left the White House in 2000, Hillary told then ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer that they were dead broke. But PolitiFact found that while the exiting First Couple did have a pile of debt, they were still able to buy a $2.85 million house in Washington. It labeled her cry of poverty “mostly false.”
In fact, PolitiFact has put together a list of more than 25 instances of false Clinton statements in this campaign alone.
But the weasel has been in Hillary Clinton for decades.
No matter how many million votes she gets in November, a significant number will be grudging ballots that do not reflect any desire to see her obfuscating in the Oval Office but simply a grim determination not to be governed by Trump.
Sanders didn’t lie: He probably would have been a better candidate to challenge Trump.
But when reluctant Americans bless themselves, throw salt over their shoulders, pray to the water god, knock on wood or rub whatever talisman they trust before they swallow hard and vote, they might want to think for a moment about the dangerous world we live in and what the next president will face.
Who will be tough enough to confront ISIS and terrorism, conniving enough to deal with the warlords of Afghanistan, cold enough to handle the horror in Syria and vicious enough to scare the rat packs in Iran, Russia, North Korea and China?
A battle-scarred weasel might be good.