TIME’s Nancy Gibbs: For POTUS Run, Hillary Doesn’t Have to ‘Answer Every Controversy That Comes Up’

TIME Magazine managing editor Nancy Gibbs is a well-established fan of Hillary Clinton, and on Thursday she brought her cheerleading act to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports. Gibbs was there to discuss this week’s cover of TIME, which asks, “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?”

Mitchell asked Gibbs how long Hillary can postpone making a decision about whether to run for president in 2016. Gibbs responded, “I think she can postpone it almost longer than anyone we have seen. It allows her to not have to answer every controversy that comes up, the latest obviously being the Benghazi report today.

Is anybody else tempted to pull out your hair and scream right now? Gibbs is brazenly admitting that the media will give Hillary a free pass until she formally declares her candidacy. (Of course, they will most likely give her a free pass after she declares her candidacy as well.) But the Benghazi issue is staring the media in the face right now, ready to be pounced on, especially in light of the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

How nice for Mrs. Clinton that she has people like Gibbs in the media who are willing to ignore her role in the Benghazi flap because she is not an official candidate yet.

If only the media felt the same way about Chris Christie. He hasn’t announced a presidential run either, and yet the media have obsessed over his “Bridgegate” controversy for the past week. (In fact, Mitchell led off her Thursday show with the Christie scandal even though there were no new substantive developments.)

It’s true that Christie is a current officeholder and Clinton is not, but Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state when the Benghazi attack happened. She and Mr. Obama ultimately share responsibility for deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts overseas. Plus, Christie has been covered during this scandal primarily as a presidential contender, not a governor. Nobody believes that, say, Alaska's Sean Parnell or Wyoming's Matt Mead would have attracted the same national scrutiny if they had done what Christie did.

Gibbs continued, referring to Clinton’s ability to postpone an official announcement: “It allows her to continue raising money and building her network and giving speeches, all of the things that she would be doing if she announced a candidacy. She can do as much of that as she wants anyway without the downsides that come with being officially declared.

The only reason Hillary can get away with that is because obsequious journalists like Gibbs are willing to play along with the charade. They are willing to believe that she truly has not made up her mind on running, even though she has behaved like a candidate over the past year. Again, the media have not spared Christie from “the downsides that come with being officially declared.”

In response to her own magazine cover’s question, Gibbs asserted that Hillary’s biggest danger is that she could get in her own way:
 

The most obvious answer is yes, Hillary could stop Hillary, either, obviously, by deciding she doesn't want this or by making the kind of mistake or having the kind of revelation where she trips herself up... [O]bviously, Hillary could say something, do something that would end up weakening her position.
 

Hillary Clinton has a long history of revelations that should have tripped her up, from Whitewater all the way to Benghazi, but the media have always been willing to excuse her. If Gibbs doesn’t think Hillary has tarnished her image by now, she probably never will.

Gibbs essentially gloated on Hillary’s behalf:
 

If she did decide [to run for president], it isn't as though she would be doing anything different than what she's doing now, but she has a luxury, you know, politics isn't fair. She gets to play by different rules by virtue of the assets that she brings to this.
 

One of the primary reasons Hillary gets to play by different rules is because the media is perfectly content to allow it. If they did their job and scrutinized her like they would any Republican candidate, she would not have such an advantage. One of Hillary’s biggest “assets” is a complicit media.

Mitchell played devil’s advocate and asked whether Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy might be hurt by the revelation that she kept an enemies list of those who failed to endorse her 2008 campaign. But Gibbs brushed aside the idea that such a list might be a problem:
 

I'm not sure there's anything particularly unusual. There's something very Nixonian about the idea of keeping an enemy's list. I think it’s easy to overplay that. I'm wondering how many elected figures any of us could find who do not, in the front or back of their minds, remember who does them favors, who doesn't.
 

So Gibbs would be okay with a president who is willing to exact retribution on those who don’t endorse them? Well then, I guess she must be okay with Chris Christie as well.

Below is a transcript of the segment:



MITCHELL: In fact, in one of the cut lines in the piece, in David's piece, is, “Her life as a private citizen has become virtually indistinguishable from her life as a candidate.” So everything that she is doing now helps, is additive towards a future campaign. She doesn't have to clearly announce or make the decision; in fact, she's better off postponing it. How long do you think she can postpone it?
 



NANCY GIBBS, Time Magazine: I think she can postpone it almost longer than anyone we have seen. It allows her to not have to answer every controversy that comes up, the latest obviously being the Benghazi report today. It allows her to continue raising money and building her network and giving speeches, all of the things that she would be doing if she announced a candidacy. She can do as much of that as she wants anyway without the downsides that come with being officially declared. She can prolong that, I would say, well into 2014, really longer than anyone else who has to establish their team, their consultants, their fundraisers, their donors, their oppo research. She has all of that ready to go and can activate it as conspicuously as she wants whenever she's ready.

MITCHELL: And of course, there's the book tour to come, because there’s the book that was originally scheduled for June at least, so there's that release and the book tour and all of the publicity attendant to that. But there's also a downside in being so far out front and perceived as inevitable. Remember what happened in 2008?

GIBBS: It's true, and you can say our cover line, can anyone stop Hillary? The most obvious answer is yes, Hillary could stop Hillary, either, obviously, by deciding she doesn't want this or by making the kind of mistake or having the kind of revelation where she trips herself up. You could argue that that’s – you know, we've been witnessing with Chris Christie that, at the moment, if he is his own worst enemy when it comes to his own ambitions, obviously Hillary could say something, do something that would end up weakening her position. But right now the point that we're making is seldom before have we seen someone whose position is so strong and yet who is still saying she hasn’t decided whether to run. If she did decide, it isn't as though she would be doing anything different than what she's doing now, but she has a luxury, you know, politics isn't fair. She gets to play by different rules by virtue of the assets that she brings to this. And so if you're any of the other Democrats who are looking at 2016, you -- all of them, I'm not surprised that we're hearing from them that their intention right now, by and large, is to support her until something happens that if she were no longer to be in their path.

MITCHELL: And do you think that there's any downside also in revelations such as in the book that was just excerpted about the hit list, about how Hillary Clinton back in the day had a list of those who supported her, senators who did and who didn't, members of Congress, Cabinet members, people that would get payback, who would not get favors because of the way they treated her in 2008?

GIBBS: I guess I would be surprised if anyone is surprised that she or any other political figure keeps track of who helps, who hurts, who's loyal in the hard times, who walks away. I'm not sure there's anything particularly unusual. There's something very Nixonian about the idea of keeping an enemy's list. I think it’s easy to overplay that. I'm wondering how many elected figures any of us could find who do not, in the front or back of their minds, remember who does them favors, who doesn't. That seems to me the very nature of politics. So I'm not sure that -- of the things that her opponents will hold against her, I'm not sure how high that would rank on the list.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.