Horowitz: Clinton Should Follow Kaine’s Lead on Email Response

Tuesday, August 09, 2016


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Before Hillary Clinton answers any more questions about her use of a  private email server as Secretary of State, she should watch Tim Kaine’s responses to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this past Sunday. 

As opposed to continuing the losing game of re-litigating whether Clinton was honest with the public in her recounting of her sending of classified information on the private server, her Vice-Presidential candidate emphasized that Clinton recognized she had made a mistake and more importantly stressed that she learned something from it and would employ the lessons she learned as President: “I know that this is something that she’s learned from,” said Kaine, “ and we’re going to be real transparent absolutely.”

Moving to what she will do as President on online security and on transparency on public records can move Hillary Clinton out of her defensive crouch and give the public some confidence that she will be more straightforward as President than she has been in her shifting, evasive and only partially true answers to questions about her emails.  In other words, to begin to convince a skeptical public that she is honest and trustworthy, she needs to demonstrate “learning behavior.”

The fact that Hillary Clinton still has a long way to go to restore voters’ trust can be seen in recent polling. For example, while she has somewhat improved her over-all favorability, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll,  6 in 10 registered voters still say "she is not honest and trustworthy" and an even higher percentage say she is “too willing to bend the rules.”  Her answers this past week conflating FBI Director Comey’s declaration that she told the truth under oath to the FBI with the veracity of her public responses were a step in the wrong direction and only reinforced the perception that she can not be trusted.

Hillary Clinton is fortunate that most voters do not find her opponent trustworthy either. This makes a potential strong point of contrast in Donald Trump’s favor difficult for him to maximize. And the former Secretary of State can probably count on Trump to continue his seemingly never ending series of categorically false statements even on matters that can be easily checked.  Trying to identify the true statements in any of Trump's media appearances or rally performances takes much less time that listing all the falsehoods.

Still, working to restore some trust will put Clinton in an even stronger position to win-- what remains a potentially close race--by eliminating her greatest point of vulnerability.  It is also critically important to successful governance.  When President Hillary Clinton addresses the nation during a foreign or domestic crisis, it is not important that everyone agrees with her stated course of action, but it is critical that most people believe she is conveying the facts of the situation as honestly and straightforwardly as she can.

That is why she should adopt Tim Kaine’s basic formula for answering all email questions—and stop defending the indefensible.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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