At some point between now and November, it was inevitable that Hillary Clinton would confront the 800-pound gorilla sitting between her and the Oval Office. To be clear, that gorilla isn’t Donald Trump, but rather a measurable lack of public trust in Clinton herself.
On Monday, with Trump dominating headlines with his continued celebration of an event that seems destined to wreak economic catastrophe in Europe, she decided it was time to address the issue head-on. In a speech in Chicago Monday afternoon, she acknowledged that despite her fairly consistent lead over Trump in public opinion polls, she understands that many voters simply can’t be sure they believe what she tells them.
“A lot of people tell pollsters they don’t trust me,” she said. “Now, I don’t like hearing that. And I’ve thought a lot about what’s behind it...And you know, you hear 25 years’ worth of wild accusations, anyone would start to wonder.”
The problem is that even though Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have faced some truly absurd accusations over the years, there are more than a few reasons why voters might wonder whether one or both of them can be completely trusted.
Her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state is currently the most glaring of those reasons, and on Monday afternoon the State Department underscored that fact with the release of about 165 pages of emails to or from Clinton’s private account that it found in its archives. The release included emails that were not among those Clinton disclosed to the government, but rather deleted.
While they may turn out to be innocuous, the fact that there are emails to or from State Department accounts that Clinton did not disclose will only add to the perception that she regularly attempts to hide information from the public.
It’s a problem that Trump has seized on with his constant references to “Crooked Hillary.”
In some respects, it’s a no-win situation for Clinton. At this point, she knows that everything she says will be scrutinized down to the molecular level in a search for possible contradictions, so she is extremely careful about what she says -- and for a presidential candidate, parsimonious with her media appearances. But that caution allows critics to suggest that her reluctance to speak in public has its root in an effort to deceive.
On Monday, Clinton tried to turn that necessity into a virtue, subtly pointing out that criticism for being overly careful in public remarks is something her presumptive Republican challenger has never faced.
“I could say that the reason I sometimes sound careful with my words is not that I’m hiding something, it’s just that I’m careful with my words,” she said. "I believe what you actually say matters. I think that’s true in life and it’s especially true if you’re president.”
Clinton also said that she understands that trust can only be earned, and that no amount of speechifying will convince a reluctant voter to trust her.
All true as far as it goes. If Clinton believes today’s remarks are a start on repairing her image with voters, she might be onto something. But if her campaign has decided that today’s remarks that are the only response required to the “trust issue,” she will likely find herself addressing it again under much less favorable circumstances.