Politics & Policy

Hillary the Ostrich

Clinton on the campaign trail in Bowling Green, Ky., in May. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
In ceding the airwaves to Trump, Clinton could be making the same mistake his vanquished primary rivals made.

Donald Trump has more flaws than anyone can count, but no one has ever accused him of refusing to answer a question.

Sure, Trump may ignore the question he’s asked, and answer the question he wishes he had been asked instead. Or he may lie. Or he may directly contradict what he said yesterday. Or he may give the questioner a long, meandering sequence of half-sentences and dangling phrases, starting, stopping, segueing, and looping around, until he has somehow left everyone less informed about what he thinks than they were when he started.

But at least he takes questions!

He answers questions all the time. He calls into television shows, does sit-down interviews, holds press conferences. For all of his berating of the press, Trump seems to be in front of a reporter at all times. Woody Allen half-jokingly said that 80 percent of life is showing up. Give the incoherent maniac credit for this much: He shows up every day.

While Trump certainly makes his share of appearances on shows with largely docile hosts — the late-night funnyman, Sean Hannity, etc. — he also does plenty of “serious” interviews. He’s sat down with the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, and the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd.

RELATED: Hillary’s Sputtering Campaign

Of course, he’s much more likely to gripe through these interviews than to offer viewers anything of substance. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo opened with a tough question about Trump’s behavior toward women, Trump lectured him about his lack of proper deference, and blasted the bias of “the Clinton network.” When CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Trump a question he didn’t like at his press conference, the candidate sneered, “I’ve watched you on television, you’re a real beauty.”

By contrast, reporters on the Clinton beat never even get the opportunity to be insulted.

#share#As Trump noted with glee this week, Clinton hasn’t held a press conference for six months. She periodically boasts that she’s done nearly 300 interviews, but that total includes appearances on entertainment programs such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She has largely avoided the kind of tough, national press that Trump endures.

When Clinton does do interviews, she sticks to her talking points and rarely offers anything spontaneous or surprising. All of her answers sound like they’ve been tested in a dozen focus groups and boiled down to uncontroversial mush. She is, as Trump put it, a “totally scripted” and relentlessly boring candidate.

While Clinton studiously avoids the temptation to be interesting, Trump is the most unpredictable man in politics.

Meanwhile, an empty podium at a Trump rally can get a half-hour of live coverage on cable news, with talking heads filling air time, speculating about what the Republican nominee will say. Trump rallies and press conferences are aired live in their entirety, without commercial interruption. And no wonder: While Clinton studiously avoids the temptation to be interesting, Trump is the most unpredictable man in politics. His rallies can feature anything from the announcement of a senator’s personal cell-phone number to his trademark insults to reporters being ejected by security to protesters threatening a riot. They rarely provide anything close to the dignified debate this great nation deserves, but they’ve yet to fail in driving up ratings.

Meanwhile, Clinton says little, and when television news pulls its attention away from Trump, the discussion is about why she can’t seem to put away Bernie Sanders.

#related#Clinton’s supporters would have us believe that this is a deliberate strategy, and there’s no reason not to doubt them. A largely glowing cover story on her in New York magazine recently admitted “Clinton hates the press. A band of young reporters follows her, thanklessly, from event to event, and she gives them almost nothing.” Clinton has calculated that she doesn’t need to give them anything, because she’s the Democrat, and Democrats have a pretty reliable base of voters. Eighteen states have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992; they add up to 242 electoral votes. She just needs to avoid making mistakes.

Eh, maybe. But it wasn’t that long ago that another dynastic representative with a long record of experience, a vast fundraising network, and a less-than-overwhelming presence on the stump sat back and waited for Trump’s controversial and offensive statements to destroy the Trump campaign. Day after day, Clinton follows a similar approach, conceding the airwaves to Trump and the circus over which he so gleefully presides.

Just ask Jeb Bush how that worked out for him.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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