Separated from the throng of Clinton supporters, journalists shuffled forward like livestock through a cattle chute, smiling Hillary volunteers watching their every move.
Blocked by yellow tape, metal barriers, and security officers, reporters could see — but not speak to — the crowds lined up along the shoreline of New York City’s Roosevelt Island for the Democratic frontrunner’s triumphal campaign relaunch. Black SUVs with tinted windows streamed past checkpoints manned by men in suits, while journalists and supporters ran a gauntlet of airport-style security, complete with metal detectors and police bag checks.
At the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the island’s southern tip, journalists were corralled into a press area fenced in by metal barriers on all four sides. Without “special clearance,” one staffer informed a reporter, mingling with the crowd was strictly forbidden.
The tight scripting and heavy security surrounding Hillary Clinton’s Saturday speech lent an air of inevitability to her candidacy — almost as if she were already president. After slipping poll numbers and a series of scandals, that’s a feeling the campaign seems eager to recapture. When her online announcement in April failed to produce a surge in support, the Clinton campaign planned an in-person rally, perhaps to revive a sense of destiny and stoke enthusiasm. Their decision to segregate journalists from supporters illustrates that the campaign is determined to control Clinton’s image as tightly as possible.
Without ‘special clearance,’ one staffer informed a reporter, mingling with the crowd was strictly forbidden.
The campaign played to its audience, at least. Selena Gomez and Arianna Grande blared on repeat through loudspeakers as a young, overwhelmingly white crowd filed into the small park. Echosmith, an indie pop and rock band popular with suburban youth, belted out the lyrics to “Cool Kids” over a sea of brightly colored tank tops and waving American flags.
The press was cordoned off while the crowd revved up; journalists were reduced to calling plaintively from behind barriers to passing supporters. Reporters who managed to briefly break through the blockade were quickly set upon by staffers, one of whom curtly told a journalist conducting an interview that she was blocking foot traffic. Some reporters furtively removed media badges so they could slip into the crowd, digital recorders held close to the vest as they interviewed attendees on the event’s margins.
“They blocked us off from interacting,” Nancy, a Hillary supporter and resident of New York, says with a laugh. “Because we might contaminate you, or you might contaminate us.”
When Clinton finally took the stage, the former secretary of state spent just two minutes out of 45 discussing foreign policy. She focused instead on her domestic policy agenda, a sprawling progressive panorama featuring universal pre-K, green energy, financial regulation, equal pay, and infrastructure spending.
Some reporters furtively removed media badges so they could slip into the crowd.
But the crowd, which at times seemed listless under the mid-June heat and Clinton’s stilted delivery, woke up for the feminist applause lines. She touted the park as the perfect place to announce, since it had “absolutely no ceilings” and criticized Republicans for their effort to “shame and blame women” over reproductive health decisions.
She ended her speech by telling the crowd she hoped to create “an America where a father can tell his daughter, ‘Yes, you can be anything you want to be—even the president of the United States.’”
Most supporters expressed more enthusiasm for Hillary’s gender than for her policy priorities. “She’s a woman,” says Shawna, of Connecticut, when asked why she supports Clinton. “That’s the biggest distinguisher, right?”
“She’s such a strong woman and presence,” says Barbara, a resident of Roosevelt Island. “You know, she’s a mom and she’s understanding. She just seems to kick ass.” She couldn’t say which of Clinton’s policies she supported, however: “That I can’t tell you.”
If the goal of the rally was to solidify a feeling that the Clinton machine is unstoppable, it worked. Virtually no supporters expressed concern that Democratic opponents such as Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley could compete against the Clinton juggernaut. Jeb Bush on the Republican side caused a bit of anxiety, but by-and-large the attendees seemed sure of victory in 2016.
“I came here to see Madame President,” says Shawna. “That was my goal. To see the next President of the United States.”
#related#The rally may have had another goal. Kyle Kondik, an election analyst at the University of Virginia and managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, speculates that the Clinton campaign always planned to debut with a big rally like the one held today, but once the private–e-mail scandal broke, the campaign moved up the timetable and launched with a video in April. “There didn’t seem to be too much of a rush to officially become a candidate, and then suddenly she ended up declaring,” he says. “And I think the e-mail stuff played a role in that.”
With the e-mail scandal in the rear-view mirror — at least for now — the Clinton campaign is probably shifting into offense, Kondik suggests.
“Basically all of the coverage on her at the moment is negative, and part of it is, she’s really not running an active national campaign,” he says. “It’s been kind of a quiet campaign, but I think maybe that changes after today.”
— Brendan Bordelon is a media reporter for National Review Online.