Like life itself, presidential candidacies can come down to a few moments.
Ted Kennedy’s inability to tell Roger Mudd why he wanted to be president was a gaffe he couldn’t overcome. The elder George Bush turned the tables on Dan Rather, providing sorely needed mojo to his presidential run.
Hillary Clinton’s Tuesday sit-down with CNN’s Brianna Kellar doesn’t belong on that list of game-changers.
Yes, it was significant in that Mrs. Clinton at long last deigned herself to sit down with a member of the Fourth Estate who didn’t hail from an early-primary state.
Hillary Clinton demonstrated, again, that she understands how to work the media for short-term gain – but maybe doesn’t appreciate the long-term damage she’s doing to her reputation.
But as for a moment frozen in time: no such luck.
Mrs. Clinton smiled a lot. When pushed, as per usual she was lawyerly evasive.
I’ll leave it to others to grade CNN on what it chose to air. There was no mention of Iran, ISIS, or Greece. Incredibly, Mrs. Clinton wasn’t pressed to weigh in on Bernie Sanders’ drawing large crowds on the campaign trail.
But what caught my eye: Hillary Clinton again demonstrating that she understands how to work the media for short-term gain – but maybe doesn’t appreciate the long-term damage she’s doing to her reputation.
Take last weekend’s dust-up in between the Clinton campaign and reporters trying to follow the candidate in a Fourth of July parade in New Hampshire. Despite the media complaints, what did readers see the following morning in the front sections of The Washington Post and New York Times? Images of a beaming candidate.
But a year from now, when presumably she’s graduated from what should be a relatively easy stroll through the Democratic primaries to a contentious and narrowly decided general election, Mrs. Clinton will be counting on a different media dynamic.
Instead of roping off the press, the Clinton media machine instead will be feeding reporters cloying tales of “herstory” -- what it means to be a daughter, wife, a mother, a grandmother and the first female nominee on the verge of cracking the ultimate political glass ceiling.
The question is: will the press play along with that fawning narrative, giving Mrs. Clinton to same sentimental tailwind it provided to Barack Obama in 2008?
Or, will the current bad blood between the Clinton campaign and the media prompt a more jaundiced narrative about the darker aspects of this particular candidacy – Mrs. Clinton’s lack of forthcomingness and inconsistences between Hillary positions present and past.
If it turns out that way, then Hillary Clinton has only herself to blame as, for nearly a quarter of a century, she and her husband have maintained an unhealthy relationship with political scribes.
During the White House years, that included shuttering the White House’s upper press office (reporters dubbed it “the no-fly zone”) and petty gestures like then-President Clinton dining aboard Air Force One after it had landed at Andrews Air Force Base, thus keeping reporters from going home. In the 2008 election, distrust turned into deeper dislike with resentment over what the Clintons perceived as biased pro-Obama coverage (they were right about that).
But in 2016, the Hillary-media relationship should be he opposite: a lovefest.
Setting aside the media’s Democratic leaning, there’s the historical nature of her run – to reporters that means more front-page stories, maybe book deals and speaking gigs.
Besides, the candidate herself promised that things would be different this time around.
Back in March, Hillary Clinton keynoted an event honoring the late New York Times reporter Robin Toner, and uttered these now-hollow words to an audience of D.C. reporters: “I am all about new beginnings. A new grandchild, another new hairstyle, a new e-mail account. The relationship with the press. So here goes: no more secrecy. No more zone of privacy. After all, what good did that do me?”
That was before the press chased the Scooby van across Iowa, shouted at Mrs. Clinton at town-hall meetings and found itself roped off from the candidate – ironically, on the day commemorating freedom.
Should Hillary Clinton choose to press a second “reset” button on her press relations, then count the days until she’s sat down will all national news networks – yes, including the Fox News Channel. And, if she opts to sound less like a public defender and more like a candidate seeking public consensus.
It’s the sensible choice for a candidate looking to become the first Democrat to succeed a sitting Democratic president.
Otherwise, if she continues with this present strategy of playing mind games with the media, the Clinton candidacy could wind up hanging itself with its own press rope.
Bill Whalen is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where he analyzes California and national politics. He also blogs daily on the 2016 election at www.adayattheracesblog.com. Follow him on Twitter @hooverwhalen.