Hillary Clinton's inability to honestly assess her 2016 election loss is turning slightly comic. And she will be the last know. She has fallen into a trap of her own devising, feigning an honest self-assessment in public.
Salena Zito has emerged as one of the most tuned in journalists covering politics today. In an era of elitist journalists, Zito has an ear for the common folk of the de-industrializing Midwest. That is why she gained a degree of journalistic immortality more significant than a Pulitzer Prize for her election coverage of 2016, by summing up Donald Trump's relationship to his base and the media's inability to understand it:
The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
This notion that the media and Trump's base perceive him through opposite lenses is intriguing. She followed up yesterday in her Washington Examiner column:
Last week two politicians made news for the ways they communicated to Americans: Clinton's words were crafted, deliberate and dishonest; President Trump's words were a string of thoughts bouncing everywhere – with no craft, no massaging and they contained great gaps of context.The press reacted wistfully to the former; to the latter, it went into full meltdown. Again.
The media, in this formulation, care not a whit about truth, but rather about the artfulness – that is, the adherence to conventional norms – of the politician. They become experts at politicians speaking in code, and they appreciate those who amuse them with their variations on the theme of lying to the public while sounding nice.
By rejecting the verbal finery of their norms with his communications and succeeding, Trump invalidates their investment in the arts of the conventional style.
A word missing from Zito's analysis is "authenticity." Trump's willingness to speak off the cuff reveals spontaneity and his obvious lack of a filter.
Michael Kinsley once observed that "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."By this definition – and this is how the press appears to view it – Trump speaks in gaffes.Now, that doesn't mean Trump is always accurate in what he says, but he says (or tweets) what he truly thinks at that moment. ...Compare this to Clinton's interview Monday with Christiane Amanpour: She conceded to mistakes during the campaign, offered to write a "confessional" seeking "absolution" – and then blamed it all on FBI Director James Comey.Bruce Haynes, founding partner of the bipartisan Purple Strategies consulting firm, calls this typical political doublespeak: "She may as well have said, 'Wasn't on me, bro.' She says she takes responsibility but, in the next breath, she blames James Comey, WikiLeaks, Vladimir Putin and who knows who else."
Even her former allies like David Axelrod are speaking out, warning her to stop dodging her own role in her defeat:
"One of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server," Axelrod said. "And, you know, so if I were her, if I were advising her, I would say don't do this, don't go back and appear as if you are shifting responsibility off of yourself. She said the words I am responsible, but everything else suggested she doesn't feel that way and I don't think that helps her in the long-run. So if I were her, I would move on."
But the media will not (or cannot) perceive the inauthenticity that is the very substance of Hillary. They live in a bubble in which the Insiders' Game is all that counts. And so they cannot provide useful feedback to Hillary. Her campaign made stupid mistakes, taking Wisconsin and Michigan for granted and, as Zito points out, sending out wealthy Hollywood stars to preach about climate change to blue-collar audiences in de-industrializing regions. Utter self-absorption prevented anyone in the campaign or its media adjuncts from realizing this.
Having surrounded herself with sycophants and listening to journalists as out of touch as she, Hillary Clinton has no antennae to warn her against looking ridiculous. Yet she persists in positioning herself as a 2020 challenger, which puts her into Harold Stassen territory, as someone who doesn't get the obvious message.