WASHINGTON – In September 2000, a brash Long Island congressman named Rick Lazio aggressively invaded Hillary Clinton’s space during a debate in Buffalo for the U.S. Senate and sent her on her way politically. Or so it seemed.
Supported by an immense back shop, unlimited money and a strong sense of entitlement, Clinton was unstoppable. Her destiny was to become the first woman president of the United States.
Now, after losing to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, and narrowly and improbably to Donald Trump in the general last year, the chattering class – the Washington punditry – which was willfully blind to the flaws of her 2016 campaign and to the collection of baggage that haunted her, is dumping on her.
Worse, her standing with much of the general public seems to have collapsed. A poll by the Republican-leaning Rasmussen organization showed 61 percent want her to just disappear. Only 38 percent believe she still has a future in public life; 49 percent said they believe her involvement in politics is “bad for the Democratic Party.”
Vanish? Not hardly. Her new book, “What Happened,” offering her version of the 2016 campaign, is generally panned by the punditry but is selling well. She visits Larkinville in Buffalo Thursday for a book-signing.
As for the notion that she is just going away, Clinton told NPR’s Rachel Martin, “I’m not going anywhere … I have the experience. I have the scars that I think give me not only the right, but the responsibility to speak out.”
Clinton spoke of a strong chance the Democrats could retake the House majority next year. “I won in 24 congressional districts that have a Republican” sitting in Congress. She said her new PAC, Onward Together, can help Democrats nationwide.
As for speaking out, Clinton called President Trump’s speech at the United Nations vowing to destroy North Korea if provoked, “dark and dangerous.” And it was.
There are two issues in her book that get too little treatment. Understandably. The first is her personality. She offers many faces. In her early Senate days, I had two very long, private meetings with her in the Senate dining room. She was charming, funny and modest. She began her Senate life by having regular meetings with the New York State press corps, in the manner of her predecessor and sponsor, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.
Something or someone persuaded her to stop this level of access, and she slipped behind a curtain of overprotective and defensive Senate aides. After 2004, she began to come across as authoritative and somehow vulnerable. And too often, not likable. The 2016 Clinton emerged as a woman who labeled half of Trump’s voters as “deplorables.”
The second issue is the emerging work of special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee. They are trying to connect the dots that suggest the 2016 election may have been rigged by Russian oligarchs and other friends of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Trump’s favor.
Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., called out Russian interests for “micro-targeting” voting blocs in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by setting up bots for spreading trolls on the internet. Trump won all three states. The messages dealt with such issues as gay marriage, gun control and immigration.
Warner said there were “1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect taking over a series of computers, which is called a botnet.”
Last week, Facebook disclosed that Russian interests bought more than 3,000 politically charged ads to help Trump last year. And The Hill.com reported that Russia-linked groups tried to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida last year.
The 2016 election is far from over.