THE WASHINGTON POST
When Hillary Clinton can study up, work out her one-liners, figure out the best way to deflect questions and fence with inquisitors she does well. She thrives, therefore, in a debate or as a witness. She is the quintessential “A” student. No one will cram harder before the big exam than she.
Left to her own devices, however, she is consistently her own worst enemy. Before she worked out her lines, spontaneous answers about her finances (“We were broke”) or her initial stance toward the Benghazi scandal (“What difference does it make . . .?) disastrous. Refusing to take scandals seriously, her first attempts at brushing back the press come across as evasive, haughty and just plain false. In supposedly friendly settings, with her guard down, she winds up saying ludicrous things that come back to haunt her.
If not for Jeb Bush’s self-immolation this week, more attention would have been paid to yet another clueless Clinton moment. Asked about the Veterans Administration scandal in a softball MSNBC interview, she argued that “it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” She claimed Republicans were exploiting the situation and wanted the VA to “fail.” Her instinct to cast blame and attack political opponents renders her entirely tone deaf at times.
As you will recall, the scandal first uncovered in Phoenix turned into a nationwide investigation, forcing out the secretary and prompting new legislation. (From the Arizona Republic: “The Office of Inspector General concluded that hundreds of thousands of patients were subjected to unacceptable delays in care, and many died while awaiting appointments; wait-time records were falsified or inaccurate at 70 percent of the VA facilities nationwide; and department leadership was contaminated by bullying, reprisal and a lack of accountability. The public furor forced out VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and other administrators, while prompting the largest reform in department history.”)
Veterans groups lobbed criticism at Clinton this week for being out of touch with veterans issues.
The conservative group Concerned Veterans for America charged Clinton with downplaying and ignoring the VA’s problems. Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called her comments on the VA a “head-scratcher.”
The VA scandal that began last year with an agency cover-up of health care delays “was so widespread it has its own Wikipedia entry,” Rieckhoff tweeted Tuesday.
And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lashed out. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he was “appalled.” Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) declared, “The problems we’ve seen at the Phoenix VA are devastating and real. The VA scandal has nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with systemic failure, negligence and lack of accountability.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted her, observing that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose Senate committee investigated the VA, was better on veterans issues than Clinton.
Her campaign tried to assure us she understands how “systematic” the problem is. No apology or correction from her was forthcoming.
Now imagine if Republicans had said, well “Democrats are just exaggerating the impact of Hurricane Katrina.” The mainstream hardly blinked when it was Clinton, fresh from passing her endurance test at the House select committee on Benghazi.
The Republican opposition research team America Rising later put out a devastating ad, recounting one news report after another detailing the abuses, corruption and ensuing deaths. It ends with McCain saying, “She doesn’t understand veterans, she doesn’t understand what they need, and she is politicizing the issue. Shame on her.”
This episode reminds us of Clinton’s severe limitations as a candidate. It also should prompt Republicans to recognize the media is back in Clinton-rooting mood. Her outlandish statements will become headlines like: “Republicans try to exploit…” The media will shrug its collective shoulders at her inaccuracies and outright deceptions. This is all the more reason to find a superbly skilled nominee, one who can focus on her liabilities and cut through the media chatter.
At the recent debate and in subsequent interviews, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) used his time in the spotlight to focus on the evidence that immediately after the Benghazi attack she told family members and the Egyptian prime minister it was a terrorist attack while the administration perpetrated a false cover story for weeks.
Republicans cannot repeat often enough evidence of her ethical lapses and shoddy record. The press sure isn’t going to dwell on it.