Is James Carville hurting Hillary Rodham Clinton more than he’s helping her? That’s the question rattling around the punditocracy this morning following Mr. Carville’s inelegant defense of Mrs. Clinton’s use of personal e-mail on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Carville’s long been a staunch Clintonite and one of the former first couple’s primary surrogate spokesmen on television. He’s been all over the cable shout shows ever since news broke that as Secretary of State Clinton relied on a home-brew private e-mail server. His primary line: it’s nothing, just business-as-usual; something Colin Powell and other Secretaries of State did too.
“It’s made up. You take pi, you subtract 3.1415 and you don’t end up with very much,” Carville told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
But Carville also said this, in a rare unguarded comment: “I suspect she didn’t want Louis Gohmert rifling through her e-mails, which seems to me to be a kind of reasonable position for someone to take.”
Republicans pounced on this as an inadvertent admission that Clinton was just trying to avoid legitimate congressional oversight. You see, Representative Gohmert is a GOP member of the House from Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee who’s an outspoken conservative. To put it mildly.
Clinton might want to avoid Gohmert’s scrutiny, but as an administration official she’s not really supposed to do that, at least as far as members of Congress are concerned.
At the least, this is a sensitive subject that the Clinton camp would want Carville to avoid. Instead, he should have gone on a trademark rant, where he becomes red in the face and fires out an emotional defense of his subject in the Louisiana accent that earned him the nickname “Raging Cajun.”
As performance art these rants are really quite impressive. But his offhand comment will give Republicans a talking point they’ll be waving around for days.
“Team Clinton is going to have to ask their surrogates to stop helping, and soon. At this rate, Clinton’s backers are going to help her right out of the race,” writes Noah Rothman at right-leaning Hot Air.
We agree with that first sentence, partly. It’s possible that Clinton may ask this particular surrogate to stop helping, at least for the moment. It’s not just that he’s made one stumble. It’s also that he’s living history, a walking, raging embodiment of all the old Clinton uproars, up to and including impeachment.
That’s not the image Clinton wants to dwell on when she runs for president. She’ll want to portray herself as modern, forward-looking candidate. Remember, her likely campaign manager Robby Mook is 35. Clinton is reaching for younger, tech-savvy leadership for her 2016 effort.
As to whether the e-mail uproar will upend her ambitions, and drive Clinton from the race, we remain unconvinced things are anywhere near that point. This is a classic partisan uproar, in which D.C. elites pay lots of attention, but the public doesn’t, with the bottom line being that committed partisans are made more committed in their beliefs, on both sides.
On March 9, a Pew poll found Clinton’s e-mails to be only the fifth-most followed news event of the week, a tick below the Supreme Court argument on the Affordable Care Act. Even this rating was based mostly on great interest among Republicans, who aren’t going to vote for Clinton anyway.
Thirty-four percent of Republicans said they were following the story closely, according to Pew. The corresponding number for Democrats was 16 percent. That was the widest partisan divide on any news story rated in that particular Pew survey.