After Hillary Clinton’s two decades in the public eye, what more could there possibly be to learn about her that voters don’t already know?
One of the first concrete revelations to emerge about Clinton was a reckoning of just how rich she has become since the Clintons left the White House “dead broke.” They haven’t stopped raking in cash: Her personal financial disclosure this year showed the Clintons earned $25 million on speeches alone from 2014 through mid-2015, and Hillary Clinton pocketed $5 million alone in royalties off her memoir, “Hard Choices.”
Her campaign says Clinton is one of the least-known well-known people in the world. Here’s what else we’ve learned about the Democratic front-runner that we didn’t know a year ago.
1. Hillary Clinton is just a regular person. At least for one lunch at Chipotle. As first lady, Clinton would sometimes don a cap and sunglasses and take anonymous walks along the Potomac River to enjoy the freedom of the everywoman. Even as a two-time presidential candidate, she still apparently harbors that impulse to break away. Clinton went unrecognized during a pit stop at a Chipotle in Maumee, Ohio, right after launching her campaign last April — and unlike most glad-handing politicians, she made no effort to introduce herself to any potential voters dining in an important swing state. Wearing shades and carrying her own tray, she chose to blend in as “just another lady” ordering a chicken burrito bowl, according to the franchise manager, who realized who she was only after reviewing his security tapes.
It wasn’t just about the food: The dominant negative story line back then was about Clinton’s wealth and disconnection from regular people. Her Chipotle trip helped ease that perception and nine months into her campaign, the $159-a-night Manchester Radisson is old hat again. And she hasn’t (to our knowledge) repeated the face-in-the-crowd tactic.
2. She’s more Manhattan than Brooklyn: For all the hooplah about Clinton’s hip Brooklyn campaign, there’s not even an office for her there. She still works exclusively from her swankier personal office in midtown Manhattan when she’s not on the road, and holds many of her senior staff meetings there.
3. She doesn’t need a script: Clinton suffers from an authenticity problem with voters — but an October video of her meeting privately backstage with Black Lives Matter protesters did more to show off “the real Hillary” than any canned appearance on the late night talk show circuit could. After Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a rally in Keene, New Hampshire, Clinton answered the challenge of Bill Clinton-era criminal justice policies in a tough, clear-eyed, problem-solving mode. “I don’t believe you change hearts,” she tells the activist who grills her. “I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.” Clinton — who needs to do well with black voters in the South Carolina primaries — has handled her encounters with the group far more adroitly than Bernie Sanders has.
4. Bill Clinton jokes are now fair game. The most surprising joke Clinton signed off on before her appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in October was at the expense of her relationship with her husband. In the sketch, Clinton plays a down-to-earth bartender named “Val,” who acts as a sounding board for the former secretary of state, played by comedian Kate McKinnon. “Sounds like you need a vacation,” Val tells her. Enter Bubba. “Did somebody say vacation?” Bill Clinton impersonator Darrell Hammond says, bursting into the bar with glee that turns to horror when he spies the two Hillarys gabbing at the bar. “Oh my god, they’re multiplying,” he cries out before running away. The real Hillary Clinton smiled along gamely.
5. She’s still deeply risk-averse — more a Fallon than a Colbert. Sources tell POLITICO Clinton was invited on as the first guest on the premiere of Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show,” a major television event that attracted 6.6 million viewers and was risky because it was an unknown. Instead she declined to play the guinea pig and appeared on the less edgy couch of Jimmy Fallon. Clinton eventually visited Colbert at the Ed Sullivan theater, but only after four other presidential candidates had already given it a try and deemed it a safe space.
6. She doesn’t sweat. For real. She can stand over a hot grill flipping steaks in Iowa on a scalding hot day, dressed in a thick, forest green sweater — and won’t sweat a bit. In an interview with Buzzfeed’s “Another Round” podcast, Clinton acknowledged that not sweating might be the weirdest factoid about her, one honed from years of sitting under hot lights for interviews. “I’m really not even a human being,” she joked. “I was constructed in a garage in Palo Alto a very long time ago.” A more serious issue is her stamina. Despite Donald Trump’s slights (and Karl Rove’s skepticism about her recovery from a head injury a couple of years ago) she has lost weight and often seems more energetic than the 20-something embeds who travel with her — just like 2008. She doesn’t take naps on the plane, much to her staffers’ chagrin, and then she still wants to hang out in the evening. “It seems like the longer the day, the more likely she is to want to have a beer with staff at the end,” said communications director Jennifer Palmieri.
7. She’s boring. For all the self-inflicted damage Clinton did by relying solely on a personal email server while serving as secretary of state, some of the emails that have been released by the State Department have managed to help shift perceptions of Clinton as calculating and cold better than any public relations strategies over the past 20 years. She watches “The Good Wife” and “Parks and Recreation,” but needs an aide’s help to figure out how to watch “Homeland” on Showtime. She listens to NPR riding along Route 27 on her way the Hamptons. She drinks iced tea at work. And, as everybody now knows, she can’t figure out how to operate a fax machine.
8. She’s still gaffe prone. Clinton’s strong performances in the three debates has turned her campaign around — and propelled her national dominance. But she can be stubborn, and often sticks with lines of argument that make her aides cringe. Clinton is rightfully proud of her role in helping to deliver aid to New York in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but she went way overboard during the second debate in November. When asked to explain her donations from Wall Street she invoked the attacks, a major no-no in a city still acutely sensitive to politicians exploiting tragedy. “I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked,” she said. “Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.” Last week she had another one, telling debate moderators “we now finally are where we need to be” in the fight against the Islamic State. Her campaign said she was referring narrowly to the recent United Nations actions — but it quickly became a GOP attack line.
9. She reverts to a self-destructive crouch when attacked. The first six months of Clinton’s campaign were a nightmare for her staffers, embroiled in an email mess the candidate herself refused to take full responsibility for. “I have done nothing wrong,” she would tell her aides who wanted her to offer a full apology in order to put the issue to bed and move on. Top aides such as campaign chairman John Podesta encouraged her to turn over her server to the Justice Department out of the gate to avoid a slow drip of bad news. But Clinton preferred the advice of her longtime attorney David Kendall and her husband, who advised that “no matter how much you give them, it won’t be enough.” It all harkened back to the way she was hobbled by Whitewater — making a small scandal loom larger than necessary by acting as if there was something deeply sinister to hide.
10. Huma can do whatever she wants: Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, who serves as vice chair of the campaign, is at the center of an inquiry by the Senate Judiciary Committee about whether her she violated conflict of interest laws by holding jobs simultaneously at the State Department, the Clinton Foundation and the private consulting firm Teneo. (Abedin claims everything was above board because she received “special government employee” status.) State Department investigators also found that she was overpaid by close to $10,000 in taxpayer money while at the State Department. Those scandals could harm Clinton by promoting an image that she plays by her own set of rules. Despite being a target in her own right, Abedin has only grown in power and stature on the campaign. She’s also the only person who was involved in the email scandal who also has an official role on the campaign — other main players, such as Cheryl Mills and Philippe Reines, were given no official roles in 2016. In short, Abedin is as untouchable as a member of the family.
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