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3 Reasons Democrats Are Freaking Out About Hillary Clinton

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checking her phone in 2010. For many Democrats, the answer to the question: "If not Hillary, who?" is — disaster.
AFP/Getty Images
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checking her phone in 2010. For many Democrats, the answer to the question: "If not Hillary, who?" is — disaster.

The back-to-back Clinton controversies are making Democrats queasy.

At a time when more than a dozen Republican presidential hopefuls are jostling each other in New Hampshire and Iowa, this should be a great moment for the virtually unopposed Hillary Clinton. She could be staying above the fray, using the time to staff up and prepare her policy agenda. But that's not what's happening.

Instead, she's fending off a pair of controversies — one on her use of a personal email account (linked to a server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.), while she was secretary of state and a second on the Clinton Foundation's fundraising from foreign governments. While we await an expected Clinton "conversation" later this week about them, here are some reasons why Democrats are freaking out about Hillary Clinton's current troubles and one reason why maybe they shouldn't.

Why they're freaking out:

1. Democrats feel like they've just stepped into the wayback machine and not in a good way.

The revelations revive all the old 1990s tropes about the Clintons — that there's always a whiff of "Pay to Play" in Clinton World; they're blind to appearances of impropriety; they feel the rules don't apply to them; and they aren't transparent. That's part of why Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — one of the most important voices in the party — said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday Clinton should "step up" and explain the emails. Feinstein said what many other Democrats think — that continued silence from Clinton will hurt her even more.

2. It won't go away any time soon.

The State Department will take months to go through the 55,000 emails Clinton has turned over to them (which isn't even all of the emails); congressional Republicans will hold hearings until Election Day; and Republican presidential candidates will be sure to keep beating the drum.

3. There's no Plan B.

This is the great irony — that although it's historically very difficult to succeed a two-term president of your own party (it has happened just once since 1948) Democrats had been looking forward to a relatively favorable 2016. President Obama's approval ratings have improved some, the economy is getting better, and the Democrats have some advantages in the Electoral College. Plus, Clinton leads in all the polls. That's all good news for Democrats, unless something happens with Clinton to derail her frontrunner status. There is only one truly viable Democrat presidential candidate — her. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vice President Joe Biden may run, but polls show they don't pose much of a challenge to Clinton. And if she did implode on her own — because of these scandals or others — Democrats aren't confident any of the other potential candidates are strong enough to beat Jeb Bush (if he can get through a primary).

Despite all the party's advantages, Democrats have a surprisingly thin bench of presidential talent. For many Democrats, the answer to the question: "If not Hillary, who?" is — disaster.

Why they maybe shouldn't freak out:

1. Maybe Democrats are just being their usual excitable selves — and there's still lots of time before the election.

Democrats are known to be a party that picks at self-inflicted wounds and gets in a circle when it's time to form a firing squad. So here's what Democratic optimists think/hope will happen. Once Clinton herself addresses the matter, she might have a satisfactory explanation. The fact that foreign governments have been giving to the Clinton Foundation has been disclosed by the foundation itself for years. Almost all the donations were annual installments of pledges made before she was secretary of state. One donation, however, the $500,000 from Algeria for Haitian earthquake relief, was not.

As for the emails, although we will never know what we don't know — since Clinton has control of the server and the emails and gets to decide herself what to disclose — one Democratic House member said he has seen the emails and claims there's nothing there. California Democrat Adam Schiff said he has seen all the emails that were turned over to the House GOP-run select committee on Benghazi. He points out that, since last summer, the House committee knew about Clinton's private email account and, now, there's nothing stopping them from releasing all the emails. This is the scenario that Democrats are hoping for — that, eventually, Clinton's emails will all be released and there will be nothing damning in them. Plus, there are still 21 months to go until Election Day — plenty of time for story lines to change.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.