Panic in Clintonworld: Surprise Debates, All-Star Surrogates, and the Return of the VWRC

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is panicked enough to push stories about its fabulous team of all-star surrogates, set up a surprise debate that won’t be held in the obscure hours of the weekend, and resurrect Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy paranoia to deflect the latest revelations in her email scandal.

Clinton’s surrogate-fluffing was provided by The Hill:

Hillary Clinton is deploying an all-star team of surrogates as she seeks to muscle her way to victory in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Clinton’s eclectic group of supporters is far larger than Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.), and gives her the ability to amplify her campaign message in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses on Feb 1.

Her surrogate squad includes Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), left-leaning millennial celebrity Lena Dunham of “Girls” fame, pop singer Katy Perry, soccer hero Abby Wambach and diplomatic powerhouse Madeleine Albright, not to mention former President Bill Clinton and first daughter Chelsea Clinton.

To date, 34 surrogates have stumped for Clinton on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. In Iowa, 28 surrogates have made appearances.

And yet, as The Hill concedes, “the surrogates don’t appear to be giving a decisive edge to Clinton, indicating she is in danger of losing the first two Democratic primary contests to Sanders.” One poll has him 27 points ahead in New Hampshire, and it hasn’t been convincingly dismissed as an anomaly or out-of-left-field outlier.  Iowa is much closer, more like a margin-of-error race at this point.

Conventional wisdom holds that Clinton shouldn’t have to worry too much about losing New Hampshire, or maybe even both Iowa and New Hampshire, because “firewall” states will kick in, and turn the Sanders-as-frontrunner narrative into a two-week novelty story.

And yet, it’s clear from The Hill piece that Clintonworld is scared out of its wits, marching a celebrity army across New Hampshire in a desperate bid to recapture some of the youth vote, which Grandma Clinton stands to lose badly to that young Turk, Bernie Sanders. He currently enjoys a 20-point edge with young Democrat voters. (Alas for Clinton, the article about surrogates ends with poli-sci professors scoffing that people don’t care about them, with the possible exception of Oprah Winfrey stumping for Barack Obama in ’08.)

The other interesting tidbit from this analysis is that Sanders won his remarkable surge in the early primary states with very modest political resources, including a less polished campaign machine. That’s got to have the Clinton team worried that he’ll keep breaking all the rules if he beats her in the early primaries.

Of course, Clinton’s formidable campaign team includes most of the mainstream media, and the Democratic National Committee.

“A last-minute town-hall-style event, announced Wednesday by CNN and scheduled to take place just one week before the Iowa caucuses, could be a saving grace for Hillary Clinton, whose presidential campaign has faced an unexpectedly formidable challenge from Democratic rival Bernie Sanders,” Vanity Fair informs us. “The prime-time gathering will air Monday at nine P.M., a huge change from the three debates that the Democratic National Committee scheduled on inconvenient weekend nights.”

Wow, how about that! A surprise bonus debate popping out of thin air, on the eve of the primaries, scheduled when people might actually watch it! Why, it seems like only yesterday that DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz was threatening to run anyone who challenged her ironclad six-debates-in-the-dead-of-night schedule out of the Party.

Well, that was before Clinton’s coronation threatened to crash and burn in Iowa and New Hampshire, and before Wasserman Schultz became a national laughingstock by claiming her bizarre debate schedule was designed to “maximize the opportunity for voters to see our candidates.”

Everyone knows the true purpose of the Democrat debate schedule was to minimize potential damage to Clinton. She always polls better when she’s offstage, especially while trying to ride out bumpy scandal news cycles.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, the DNC also had to be worried that an ambitious primary competitor might try hitting Clinton with her email and influence-peddling scandals. Sanders hypocritically refuses to do so – no true and sincere devotee of Mega Government should be willing to tolerate Clintonian corruption in his sacred statist temple – and the wild cards are off the table, plus the “town hall” format of the surprise debate won’t give the candidates a chance to take shots at each other, so a last desperate shot at rallying the troops behind Clinton must have seemed worth the risk.

The FBI will have the last word on that email scandal, and while Clinton’s team has good reason to fear an indictment (or the firestorm that would result from Obama’s DOJ quashing a strong referral from investigators) there isn’t much they can do about it. What they can control is the political damage from the possibility of indictments, which tends to make primary voters nervous.

Team Clinton decided to manage that anxiety by resurrecting the specter of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, which apparently now includes the FBI and Obama appointees:

That would be the same IG McCullough who had to request an upgrade to his clearance level merely to view the classified data lurking on Clinton’s email server.

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy card has worked fairly well for Clinton in the past, because it’s a story Democrat voters desperately want to believe – they have a proven track record of excusing all manner of offenses by their leaders, if they think the hated Republicans are behind the accusations, or would benefit too much from the outcome of a successful prosecution.

But this is a different sort of election year, one that places a premium on brash confidence across both sides of the aisle. The VRWC stuff sounds so stale and feeble in this environment, especially since young voters seem to be giving Bill Clinton’s sex scandals an unfavorable second look, and they’re not seeing any right-wing conspiracies.  

One way or the other, Clinton’s scandal cloud probably won’t be a matter of political spin during the general election – either she gets indicted, or she doesn’t. The important job for her campaign is to reassure nervous primary voters, and since Sanders refuses to hit her hard on the issue, they might be correct in believing a little shot of the old right-wing-conspiracy juice will bring the Democrat base together in angry defiance against the Rethuglican menace. They’re going to need barrels full of that juice to fix their New Hampshire problem.


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