I generally refrain from commenting on current, national political issues here. I want to use this page to explain how campaigns work, rather than comment on national policy and political issues.
But I think the NY Times report yesterday that Hillary Clinton used her personal email as Secretary of State to conduct government business is a good warning for all candidates.
On the surface, using a personal email rather than a government email doesn't seem like a big deal. But I think it may have an impact on the campaign for this reason: it fits into a narrative Republicans will try to paint of Clinton that people readily believe.
That narrative is that the Clinton's believe they are above the law.
The Benghazi issue sticks to Clinton not because she made a mistake in protecting the embassy. Clinton isn't incompetent, she's capable of being President. Voters aren't going to believe that a bad call on protecting the embassy in Benghazi disqualifies her from the Presidency. What they will believe is that she ought to take responsibility for it. That's why her declaration that "what different, at this point, does it make?" is more important than the incident itself. It sets Clinton up as a candidate who doesn't believe she has to answer questions from the public.
And that is a narrative that may stick to Clinton: "what difference does it make?"...using personal email rather than government email...accepting questionable donations to the Clinton Foundation...using that foundation to promote her political career. These all fit into a narrative that Hillary doesn't believe she has to play by the rules that average Americans have to play by (whether it's true or not).
When you contrast yourself with your opponent, you want to create a believable narrative. Finding a one-time mistake your opponent made in their younger days and beating them over the head with it isn't as effective as creating a story about who they are.
It's not what your opponent did, it's who your opponent is.
You need to identify multiple examples of who your opponent is. President Obama did this effectively with both Senator McCain and Governor Romney.
On McCain: McCain was an old candidate...who continued to support an war that most Americans had moved on from...he said Americans were better off than they were eight years before...he was just like George W. Bush. Obama was hope and change, McCain was the past. That's who he is.
On Romney: Romney was rich, and not in touch with average people...he laid off employees at Bain Capital...he shipped middle class jobs overseas...he talked about the 47%...he would cut taxes only for the rich. That's who he is.
The best political attacks aren't based on one thing your opponent did, they're based on a narrative about who your opponent is.
Keep that in mind when creating the message for your campaign.
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