Clinton 2016, above the law
© Greg Nash

There was an eye-catching headline in the daily Hotair.com email for Friday, March 6:

"Rick Wilson has some advice for the GOP on Hillary: This isn't about you, so shut up."

Wilson, a Florida political analyst, says Republicans should "stop talking" about the controversy surrounding Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary and Chelsea Clinton to host series based on their book 'Gutsy Women' Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Biden officially announces ex-Obama official Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE's use of a private email server in her home as opposed to the government system she was supposed to use as secretary of State.

But if they must: "Press the sore spots, subtly, but constantly," Wilson wrote. "Use it as a way to leverage discussion of the Clinton family's infamous contempt for the law and remind the public of their obsessive secrecy, paranoia, habitual lawbreaking. Wonder, in serious tones, how much of the email traffic has to do with the other scandal that reporters have been desperately trying to cover up; the Clinton Foundation's scuzzy foreign-money vacuum."

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He has a point. Democrats had come to view Hillary Clinton's capturing their party's nomination as automatic and her ascension to the White House as all but inevitable. But in recent weeks, two stories have emerged — one about the millions contributed to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation by foreign governments presumably hoping to curry favor with the president-to-be and one about her use of private email to conduct public business when she was secretary of State — that threaten that inevitability and have even Democrats looking at other options.

The people who will defend her no matter what make predictable cases. The foundation didn't accept money from foreign governments while she was secretary of State — except maybe a couple of times. And she is not the only high official in government — or even the only secretary of State — to use private email, although the laws and rules requiring former Secretary of State Colin Powell to do so were not in effect when he was in office.

The problem for Clinton is that although she has not announced that she is running for president, Americans have long known she wants to be the first woman in the Oval Office. What they do not know is what she wants to do once she gets there.

With Americans still "Waiting for Hillary" to come up with an agenda, the picture reverts to a familiar one — one that dates back to her husband's time in the White House and even before. And that picture is one of sleaze, secrecy, half-truths and an endless, boundless, shameless chase for campaign funds.

And although Americans were willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to her husband's scandals, they might not be so charitable this time. For one thing, neither scandal can be ended effectively.

There is a reason Clinton had her own private server and multiple email addresses: She did not want her communications to become public — ever. Now, she says she wants us to see them and releases 55,000 pages of emails. But those obviously are the emails she feels comfortable releasing. How deep will she have to dig before Americans are satisfied that they've seen all they need to see?

How long will the press have to criticize her — remember, even The New York Times, The Washington Post and other liberal outlets have condemned this — before she gives up and turns over damaging material? And what of that material? How damaging will it be on Benghazi, hustling money from foreign governments or other matters?

As to the money from foreign governments, she can point to worthwhile projects those dollars helped fund. But how does she prove to a now-skeptical public that those dollars were given with the best humanitarian intentions and not to win favor from her once she is elected?

Suddenly, the coronation has begun to look like an inquisition. And Clinton's usual response to such crises — enlisting her friends in the press and other surrogates to trash accusers while she delivers a series of highly paid speeches with carefully chosen attendees, questioners, etc., to produce positive video — seems unlikely to help.

Because, in addition to being hard to deny, both scandals are easy to understand. She doesn't want us to know what she was saying to others as secretary of State — indeed, she was willing to risk the security of those communications to shield them from the American public, and experts say she almost certainly was hacked. And she doesn't want to discuss the nature of the donations to the foundation.

Both reek of the self-serving, double-dealing, secret-keeping reputation that has followed the Clintons and bothered even many of their devout fans over the years.

Both reinforce the notion among her detractors that she considers herself above the law, that the rules she enforces on others do not apply to her and that the ends — assembling a huge war chest — justify the means.

Handicappers of the 2016 presidential race say we shouldn't read too much into the Republican landslide of 2014. The great middle, which twice put Barack Obama in the White House, will turn out in 2016 and give her a big advantage.

But will it? Not if these scandals, which won't go away easily, are still around.

O'Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign and is author of the book Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery.