For nearly 25 years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have portrayed themselves as nearly innocent victims of the dozens of scandals that have plagued them.
Indeed, one of the former first lady’s selling points these days is that the Clintons are now impervious to Republican attacks because they have weathered so many and there are no new stones to turn over.
The Democratic Party establishment could only wish that were true. Unfortunately for them, the Clintons remain far from experts at fending off brewing scandals, real or exaggerated.
It is as if the Clintons, despite 25 years in a harsh national spotlight, never learned the key lesson from the fall of Richard Nixon, the 37th U.S. President: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
The original “-gate”
Remember the steady drum beat that the very crafty, very wily, very shifty Richard Nixon faced when he denied for a long time that they were any secret Oval Office tapes?
He also steadfastly denied that there had been any involvement by his administration in a break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters.
Eventually, Nixon got caught and was forced to resign. But not before dragging it out interminably with ever more intense stonewalling.
It is this ill-conceived and politically inept strategy that the presidential campaign team surrounding Hillary Clinton is now running in 2016. The “crime” in question? Her lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs.
In contrast to “Tricky Dick,” her campaign is not denying that the speech happened or even that there are tapes and transcripts of her paid speeches to the investment bank.
Nor is Hillary Clinton prevented from releasing them, since her contracts for those events explicitly state that she is in full control of the rights for those texts.
She is just arguing that she won’t release the text until “everybody who’s ever given a speech to any private group under any circumstances release[s] them.” Whatever the curious logic of that statement may be, it isn’t going to wash.
Already, there are enough comments from Goldman Sachs bankers who attended those events pointing to the likelihood that the speeches were such a love song to Wall Street that Mrs. Clinton cannot possibly release those texts in the current political context.
Wrong Republican focus
It is ironic, and shows the dysfunctionality of the U.S. political process, that the former senator from New York is instead mistakenly being hounded in the U.S. Congress by Republicans for the chain of events unfolded in Benghazi and after the 2012 attack. Their nose for meatier scandal is no longer as sharp as it once was.
There is little to no evidence suggesting wrongdoing in the Benghazi situation, particularly in comparison to the number of fatal attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities during the prior (Republican) administration.
Nor does that supposed “scandal” resonate with most voters. Yet Congressional Republicans have continued to obsess over it.
It would be much more politically devastating to target Secretary Clinton for her Goldman texts. That, of course, is not in the Republican Party DNA, since it would expose the triangular love complex.
That triangle features first and foremost Republicans, and then those Democrats who are always keen on making good with Wall Street in order to rake in plentiful contributions.
It is possible, of course, that the Republican Party – or rather the very smartly run and ruthlessly operating Trump campaign — already has the Goldman speech tapes and transcripts and is waiting for a more opportune time.
Imagine for a moment that Hillary Clinton will be successful in her primary campaign for president, having stalled the release of the speeches long enough to win the nomination of the Democratic Party.
Then imagine what any Republican candidate for president would do, following the bruising Democratic primary and riding a populist wave on their own side.
Even opportunistic Ted Cruz, whose wife is herself on leave from Goldman Sachs, would be more than happy to ratchet up his pre-existing attacks on “New York values.”
But Donald Trump especially, campaigning on a haphazard but resonant economic nationalism that questions even his Wall Street friends, would bring down the hammer.
Any Republican nominee would engage in an unrelenting “Hillary, release those tapes” campaign – and might even leak the speeches. They would argue that Clinton cannot be trusted by the American people because she does not or would not release those texts.
A bridge too far?
Democratic voters have already put up with a lot of scandals surrounding the Clintons – a good many of them truly cooked up out of nowhere, but exhausting nonetheless.
The Goldman Sachs matter is really a bridge too far. The mere existence of the speeches demonstrates a serious inability on Hillary Clinton’s part to understand where the political landscape was headed. It also underscores the inability of her staff to slam on the brakes for the sake of her political future.
The Goldman matter, entirely self-inflicted, demonstrates that the Clintons have really never learned the scandal management skills they claim to have picked up from endless experience.
There is no legal reason, contractually, against releasing the speeches. There is only fear, bad strategy advice or both.
This is the true Nixon moment of the 2016 Clinton campaign. It represents a nuclear risk for the Democratic Party.