A Question of Competence

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 4 –

  • Team Clinton: A classic winner that may not be ready for today
  • The old Clinton playbook is dusty
  • Jeb suddenly starts lowering expectations

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

It was a tough week for two establishment frontrunners, but a much, much tougher week for Hillary Clinton than it was for Jeb Bush.

Hillary Clinton:

Think of your favorite classic football team. Maybe it’s Joe Montana and the 49ers teams he took to the Super Bowl in the 1980s. Or maybe the ’85 Bears. I’ll think of the almost-did-it Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s.

Whichever team you’re thinking of, you probably wouldn’t want to see them take the field again today. Yes, of course, they’re football heroes. But no matter how superior they were in their day, they are just too old and rusty to put on pads and start trying to match skills with today’s players.

Age isn’t the only problem. The entire league has also grown in size and weight. Players have gotten faster over the years. New tactics and playbooks have emerged. The no-huddle offense, once a novelty, is now something defenses are trained to defend against. New offenses have become more popular — the wildcat, the pistol — and old players might find themselves at a loss defending against them, never having been trained in the best practices.

This is a natural effect of the passage of time. And in politics today, Team Clinton faces a similar dynamic. In the 1990s, they developed the playbook for handling brutal, damaging scandals. They put the same old faces on television to argue that the Clintons were the victims of an unjust persecution. They trotted out the same sort of vaguely plausible explanation for every documented misdeed.

But can the responses they used then — to shout, to confuse, to demonize accusers, to rely upon opponents to overplay their hand — work in the very different world that exists today?

It’s an open question, but it’s the one that dogs Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. Last week, she held a press conference conference to address the incredible, embarrassing fact that she exclusively used private email to conduct official business during her time as President Obama’s secretary of state. It did not go well — and conservatives were not the only ones to point this out. As the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza put it on Twitter, “Not trolling but I personally thought email story was mostly bogus until watching this press conference and learning how she handled this.” If even sympathetic lliberal media figures are now questioning Clinton’s honesty and competence, what hope will she have of persuading most others?

At the heart of this scandal is the fact that Clinton arrogantly placed herself above the law. She chose to make an end-run around the laws that are supposed to guarantee maximum transparency in government records — perhaps to protect herself from scrutiny at some future date. When she is questioned about it, she invokes her right to privacy regarding her personal matters, which she personally chose to commingle with public business when she chose to work from her private email server.

As a result of Clinton’s end run around laws that only apply to little people, she also left sensitive information — namely, the immediate decisions and thinking of the senior diplomat of the United States — open and accessible to foreign intelligence services on a server that was not properly secured.

When she finally got around to submitting the records of her official business to the State Department — long after this was required under Obama administration policy and federal regulations — she had already managed to thwart proper congressional inquiries into her official business as well as Freedom of Information requests. It is hard to believe this was not by design. And one can only look agape at her declaration that she destroyed correspondence that she and her campaign team — not necessarily legal experts — had deemed unrelated to her official role at State.

Amid the emails Mrs. Clinton has actually submitted to the State Department and the House Benghazi Select Committee are several gaps, according to chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. There are, in fact, no 
emails from the time she traveled to Libya — the time when the iconic photograph of her staring at her Blackberry was taken.

Clinton’s explanation became even less plausible when she parsed her language in her press conference to leave the almost certainly misleading impression that no classified information had been transmitted through her insecure home email server. Her assertion will be proven false if the State Department, whenever it releases the emails she deigned to submit, redacts even a single line on national security grounds.

Her assertion that she wished to protect private correspondence with her husband was proven false at the same moment she uttered it, as Bill Clinton’s aides revealed to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the former president has sent only two emails in his entire life, both during his presidency. The same could be said of her stated assumption that any email she sent to subordinates who used government email addresses would be preserved. It turns out the state department did not routinely save such correspondence until well after Clinton left office. Did she know nothing about her own department’s policy? 

In the time since, the old Clinton attack dogs have hit the airwaves. But will the public accept explanations that come from a Clinton lackey like David Brock of Media Matters? Will it ignore the unintentional suggestion by James Carville that Hillary Clinton conducted business on a private server in order to avoid having Congress see too much of what she is doing?

Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that Clinton might not be the sure thing she once seemed. Her inept and transparently dishonest answers about the handling of her poor judgment on her emails do not hint at good things coming if she becomes their nominee. And they face a lonely, dark world without her — one in which the task of rallying a sluggish Democratic base falls to a lackluster Democratic rival for the nomination — probably former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

As the Obama era ends, Democrats may ultimately conclude that there is no new Obama waiting in the wings. That could be serious grounds for despair.

Jeb Bush:

After weeks of building up expectations about his fundraising game among establishment donors, POLITICO reports that Bush now has to tamp them down.

It could signify one of two things: Either he expects to fall far short of the announced goal of raising $100 million in SuperPAC funds by this month’s end, or that he doesn’t want to look like the establishment candidate with the big moneybags, just waiting to be taken down by a true conservative. That makes this story a lose-lose for him, and perhaps a lesson for the future about setting expectations too high.

Senate 2016


It was always hard to imagine that former Republican governor-slash-Indepenent Senate candidate-slash-loser for governor in 2014 Charlie Crist would even think once about another run for Senate. Crist seemed to confirm the improbability on Monday when he declared that he would not be running for anything next year.

But with Sen. Marco Rubio, R, considering a presidential run, Democrats might have a better shot at his seat than usual. Rubio would begin in a strong position for reelection, according to a recent poll, cracking 50 percent.

CIB031715- Scott_Crist-300x206 If he doesn’t run, state CFO Jeff Atwater, R, and Attorney General Pam Bondi are both considered top prospects. There’s also Agriculture Commissioner and former U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam.

Democrats,whose bench in Florida is amazingly thin for such a competitive state, are far more likely to go with Rep. Patrick Murphy, D, who represents a Republican district on the Treasure Coast, as their nominee than with DNC Chairmwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose negatives are sky-high and who has had a tumultuous relationship with the Obama White House.


Republicans have little chance of competing for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D, but the Democratic primary will be interesting. As Tim Carney points out, Democratic party insiders are mostly interested in nominating proven fundraiser and former DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen, and not so much in picking a hard-left liberal like Rep. Donna Edwards, even if that creates some awkward moments for the party’s mostly-black voter base. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D, is reportedly considering a run, and he would probably present Van Hollen with a difficult challenge in a primary.    


Democrats would like someone else credible to enter this race, but for now it appears that they might be stuck with former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, as the candidate whom Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is most likely to face in what would be a rematch of his 2010 race. Sestak’s announcement was unusual because he went so far out of his way to suggest that he does not have the blessing of his party’s leadership. That blessing usually comes with good reason, though — it signifies the faith that knowledgeable party insiders place in a candidate. They seem to have little faith in him.