A.B. Stoddard: Silence isn’t golden

A.B. Stoddard: Silence isn’t golden

On Saturday, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMore than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls Trump is threatening to boycott the debates — here's how to make sure he shows up Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE will officially launch her presidential campaign for what may be the last time. 

There have been a few starts, like a book tour last year that did not subtly or successfully portend a coming campaign, and a soft-launch video announcing her candidacy in April. The former first lady, who has arguably been running for president since 2005, has taken the time since then for a “ramp up” period to talk to voters about America’s problems. 

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Few are expecting a sudden shift from the foot-dragging candidate who has eschewed positions on pressing policy matters and preferred politically comfy platitudes, but perhaps Clinton will surprise everyone at her final, official launch at Roosevelt Island in New York City.

This week in particular, the president Clinton hopes to replace — if she can break the historical trend that has allowed a party to win a third consecutive term in the White House only once since 1948 — is on edge. President Obama is simultaneously awaiting the outcome of a House vote on trade promotion authority, negotiations on a nuclear deal and a Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act that could potentially dismantle the country’s healthcare system. On all of these issues Clinton has been silent.

On Wednesday Obama announced a shift in his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sending 450 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster the training of defense forces there. Since announcing her plans to run for president, Clinton has said little of the burgeoning wars in Iraq and Syria, except that she was wrong to support the 2003 war in Iraq and that, in the face of ISIS gaining strength and territory, it will be up to the Iraqis to protect their own country.

On trade, Democrats supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal are being slammed by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups for backing Obama on the measure. Meanwhile Clinton, who helped negotiate the agreement and promoted it during her tenure as secretary of State as “the gold standard” of trade deals, has taken little heat from Big Labor. Though it is clear she has access to every detail and Obama could use her help to pass the TPP, she continues to insist she can’t pass judgment until she sees the final product.

Clinton has worked hard to avoid the press since announcing her candidacy. And because of this, her ramp-up has been mostly defined by critical news stories about: the Clinton Foundation and the connection between its donors, both Clintons’ speaking gigs and lack of disclosure of donations; her violation of an agreement limiting those donations while she worked as secretary of State; who lobbied the department during her tenure after giving to the foundation; how Bill Clinton hid some money to avoid disclosure; and how Hillary Clinton placed most of her government work at the State Department on a private email server she has now destroyed. Her favorability ratings are now below 50 percent, 57 percent of voters don’t believe she is trustworthy, and the huge leads she held over potential GOP presidential candidates have shrunk to just a few points.

Clinton doesn’t like answering questions, so she likes to say the campaign isn’t about her, it’s all about the voters. That might be fine this year because she believes no one can defeat her for the Democratic nomination, but next year in the general election it will actually be about her. Support for same-sex marriage, debt-free college, campaign finance reform and more access to early voting may be appealing to her base, but they aren’t the most urgent issues. She should find the guts to confront them soon if she really wants to be president.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.