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Caucus Roundup: The Clinton Empire Strikes Back

COLUMN BY JOHN WINGERT

A long time ago in an unsuspecting political galaxy, Hillary Clinton reigned supreme. At the time, she waited for a coronation not only for the Democratic nomination but for the presidency itself as well.

Now things remain much more nebulous. The political machine she controls has had more than a few wrenches thrown into its cogs.

The most notable and apparent problem for Clinton’s hegemony is Bernie Sanders. After being perceived to be stalled by the epithet of “socialist,” Bernie Sanders has worked extensively to create a grassroots layer of support without many of the contacts within the Democratic Party that other candidates might have. Because he has been an independent or third party candidate for his entire political career, Bernie Sanders was too far outside of the mainstream to be taken seriously by most.

However, as Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina can also testify, being seen as the outsider of any sort of establishment is a huge boon in the 2016 cycle. The exact qualifications that made Clinton fit for the presidency (first lady, senator, Secretary of State) have become associated with a politics-as-usual phobia.

In addition, Clinton has been riddled with scandals that seem unbecoming of a person running as the presupposed nominee. After running her State Department through a private email account and private server, many have questioned her trustworthiness. In addition, it has come to light that some of the emails on that server were considered classified under certain definitions. Other emails deemed “personal” by Clinton’s lawyers were deleted entirely, making inquiry into Clinton’s tenure as secretary more turbid.

The Clinton Foundation run by Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea Clinton has also been associated with questionable accounting methods. In addition, it accepted foreign donations while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State that critics are concerned may have influenced her actions as the United States’ head diplomat.

To handle the insurgent support for the policy-focused Sanders, Clinton seems to be waging a war on many, varying fronts.

The primary concern for Clinton at this point is the continuing damage of her email policy while Secretary of State. Although Clinton has tried to explain her policies on many occasions, her answers have yet to satisfy the general public.

Her early responses were often to blame right-wingers as using this as a purely politically motivated attack. When asked why she had set up a private server for her state department emails, Clinton has repeatedly cited the convenience of using one email account, but many point to the breach of security and lack of transparency as obviously inconvenient now for her long-term plans.

Clinton has always stated that she was well within her rights to use a private email address and that no classified information was passed through it; however, in recent weeks, the CIA has concluded that the information designation of communiques over the North Korean nuclear weapons program sent over her private email account were labeled “Top Secret,” the highest possible level of security.

To counter these more recent revelations and accusations, Clinton gave an interview to Andrea Mitchell where she apologized “that this has been so confusing for people.” While not a full apology, it is the first time Clinton said, “I’m sorry” with regard to her email policies.

However, it was also useful for Clinton to go on the offensive. Clinton seized the opportunity to advance her domestic agenda items of pay equity for women, increased child care, and paid maternity leave. Unlike her 2008 campaign, Clinton has embraced fully her potential to become the first female president as a selling point of her candidacy and strengthened her progressive platform with feminist planks.

In addition to her standard rebukes of Republican positions, mostly centered around comparing all candidates to the eccentricity of Trump, she also was able to subtly jab at Bernie Sanders. Although Hillary Clinton has yet to even mention Senator Sanders full name in any of her limited interviews, she managed to take a stance against his style of campaigning without mentioning him.

Now famous for his policy-driven, no rhetorical chaff style, Sanders has always been principled in his socialist leanings. Seeming to refute his perspective, Clinton said, “I started out listening, because I think you can come with your own ideas and you can wave your arms and give a speech, but at the end of the day, are you connecting with and really hearing what people are either saying to you or wishing what you would say to them?”

Continuing that theme, Clinton delivered a speech in front of Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis where she said, “other candidates may be fighting for a particular ideology, but I’m fighting for you and your families.” In addition to that, she leaned heavily on “women’s issues” as the recurring policy items she wanted to advance.

At the Minneapolis summit, Clinton also included campaign finance reform and straight ticket campaigning which had previously been more minor aspects of her campaign, especially given the quantity of multimillion dollar donations she and her super PACs have received. However, campaign finance reform, along with income inequality and climate change, has always been one of the three main planks of Sanders’ presidential run.

In addition to these veiled invectives, Clinton also seems to have initiated an attack using her political allies. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, has said, “I wholeheartedly endorse Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President.” Recently, he has also begun turning that support into acrimony, commenting to reporters that, “I don’t think there’s any comparison between Hillary Clinton’s credentials and qualifications and positions, and Bernie Sanders.”

Clinton’s campaign headquartered from Brooklyn, New York has paid the travel cost for other proxies of the campaign like Sen. Claire McCaskill, Rep. Joaquin Castro, and Gov. Dannel Malloy.

McCaskill has said, “I think the question that some of us have is can someone who has said, ‘I’m not a Democrat,’ has chosen the title of socialist, is that person really electable?” in an appearance on Morning Joe.

Joaquin Castro, a congressman from south Texas, made an appearance at a Mexican restaurant in Des Moines. On a trip funded by the Clinton campaign, he said Bernie Sanders “has not reached out to the Hispanic caucus in Congress, has not reached out to me.” Later on he added, “He has not visited Texas or the Rio Grande Valley…. That’s a bit of a concern.”

Connecticut governor, Dannel Malloy, has also participated in the reinvigorated Clinton onslaught. One of the few areas in which Sanders has not leaned farther left than Clinton is gun control. Sanders’ record is primarily against gun regulation because of Vermont’s heavy use of hunting-related weaponry, but he has nonetheless said that he supports more rigorous background checks and assault weapons bans nationally. However, to seize upon this perceived chink in his progressive armor, Malloy said Clinton’s “position among the Democrats is a lot more popular than his position. There’s a difference.”

These Clinton-tied operatives have all rallied against Sanders while also allowing Clinton to keep her hands clean of the intra-party fighting. She has instead worked to refine her stump speech and talking points to appeal more heavily to Democratic voters. In addition, many pundits, like John Dickerson of CBS’ Face the Nation, think that her campaigns have generally taken some time to fall into a rhythm.

Now that this rhythm has become more apparent, could we see caucus-goers and primary voters change their tune?

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