'Her Way' Indeed: Leibovich's HRC Interview for NYT Mag Cover Skips Scandals, Bashes Trump

October 17th, 2016 9:58 AM

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured a 6,000-word cover profile of Hillary Clinton by Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for the magazine: “Her Way.” And the article indeed went all “her way,” skipping scandals, bashing Trump and hailing the caring, dogged thoughtfulness of the Democratic candidate.

Early this month, I went to Toledo, Ohio, to meet with Hillary Clinton, to sit down with her for a while and take the measure of her ordeal. It was five weeks before an unnervingly high-stakes Election Day. Every campaign produces candidates declaring that “the most important election of our lifetimes” is at hand. Usually this is true only for the person running (no doubt 2012 was the most important election of Mitt Romney’s lifetime). But this year’s stakes feel legitimate...

Clinton had a rally scheduled in a run-down section of Toledo, the northwest Ohio city that ranked as the fourth-most economically distressed of the nation’s 100 largest. It is home to many of the struggling white working-class men who have made Ohio such tough terrain for Clinton and surprisingly fertile for her billionaire opponent. Clinton has trailed consistently in polls here, even though Barack Obama carried Ohio twice. I drove through town, passing block after block checkered with Trump signs, listening to screed after screed on talk radio about the malevolence of Obama and Clinton, and it sent me into one of those echo-chamber vortexes where I began to wonder if any Ohioans would be voting for Clinton at all.

This supposed sit-down with Hillary opened with a long list of condemnations of Donald Trump over issues that have been full aired out by now: Taxes, Machado, Trump’s nasty chat with a TV host before filling turning to the subject of the profile.

....She sat down next to me at a conference table, slumped back in a swiveling desk chair. Her contempt for Trump was clear from the outset, far more intense than it appears even in speeches and debates. It went well beyond the competitive fervor with which one general-election candidate tends to speak about another....


That sense of high moral purpose is evident throughout the campaign. Whenever I visited Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, the youthful energy and confidence of the staff was leavened by a detectably uneasy undercurrent. Either they are helping elect the first female president, assuring her place in history, or they will be the people who lost to Donald Trump....

He showed a confident-spouting Clinton.

Given that, I asked Clinton if Nov. 8 scared her. “No, not really,” she said slowly. I clarified that I was talking about the prospect of her losing. She knew what I was talking about. “I’m not going to lose,” she said. She shot me a knowing grin.


Trump coined a grand and nostalgic slogan, “Make America Great Again,” easily the most recognizable campaign calling card since “Yes We Can.” When I talked to Clinton, she told me how pleased she was with her own slogan, “Stronger Together.” She was especially proud of how it came out of a deliberative process: grinding out ideas and really figuring out what it was she wanted to stand for. I mentioned that it hardly rolls off the tongue, sounding more like a CrossFit slogan than a rallying cry. “It’s clunky, but it works,” I said, and she nodded.

And all one can say to this next paragraph is: Biden?

Clinton has worked closely with (and married) some of the most gifted orators and “explainers” of recent political memory -- Obama, Joe Biden and Bill. All three are deft at relaying big themes and small narratives alike. Clinton, for her part, is stubbornly cautious and on script, banking on the notion that real-life concerns of voters and tangible benefits of her proposals will win out in the end over spectacle....

Leibovich painted Hillary as a caring leader, a little dull but dogged, conveniently keeping to the campaign’s own unavoidable line.

It’s striking to me now that Clinton’s main interest in these new media technologies was not so much as a political tool but as a policy concern for the citizenry. Clinton described “the insidious, pernicious comparisons” that online communities can foster in young people, and the temptation to “put out an identity online before it’s ever formed” in real life. Thinking about this exchange 14 months later, after what feels like a generation’s worth of lines crossed and taboos shattered, her concern seems strangely prescient.


Clinton is, in other words, the anti-Trump. She is not a political novelty, nor is she especially entertaining as a media personality or in front of big groups. She and her campaign know this and have been smart about not pretending otherwise. Trump’s big shadow and outrage machine have even allowed her to become slightly and perhaps blissfully lost; to fade, if not into obscurity, at least into a background that cuts the glare of the scrutiny to which she has been so averse. In a sense, she is daring voters to study her positions, listen to her answers and not look to her for entertainment or emotional impact. In 2016, that can seem almost risky.

Leibovich downgraded his own profession for the candidate's sake.

By Sept. 5, Clinton had gone 275 consecutive days without holding a news conference. With the campaign now unofficially kicked off, it was time for her to tend to this pesky constituency. Shortly before the plane left Westchester County in New York for Cleveland, where she would be holding a Labor Day rally, Clinton made her way to the press section in the rear of the plane. Forty or so reporters maneuvered themselves over chairs, armrests and one another to capture this “casual” hello for posterity.

He did find a few entertaining anecdotes, mildly embarrassing to the Clinton campaign on the surface level, but brought up no Democratic scandals, and apparently had no substantive or ethical quarrels with Hillary Clinton to raise, only criticism of the Trump campaign and his supporters.

The Labor Day rally took place in a mostly African-American neighborhood of Cleveland, where Clinton was joined by her running mate, Tim Kaine. He spoke for a few minutes, and then Clinton came out to wish everyone a happy Labor Day. “We were trying to figure out where we could be,” Clinton said. “And we all said, ‘Let’s go to Cleveland!’ ” It went downhill from there. Clinton unleashed a few coughs between sentences, which soon degenerated into a full-on fit....You could sense dread in the crowd -- and see cringing eyes among the Clinton staff -- over what would become of this moment. This is your brain on Trump. He had been suggesting for weeks that Clinton was not in good health, a conceit stoked by a Greek chorus on the internet and a few well-placed “medical experts” on cable (paging Dr. Giuliani). The coughing fit was all over TV that afternoon and inspired a screaming Drudge headline about Clinton’s “violent coughing fit.”

The Democrats prefer passive, moderate Republicans who know their media-appointed roles and run clean losing campaigns.

....Several Clinton aides I spoke to brought him up in almost wistful terms, as well as John McCain and George W. Bush. They are now fondly recalled as familiar predators in the political habitat, like the characters from that old cartoon “Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog.”

Leibovich related the softball questions Hillary got when she finally held an official press conference after 275 days, without noting their fawning nature.

Clinton revealed in the session that she had increased her intake of antihistamine. She spoke in greater depth about her allergies, which prompted a pointed follow-up question (“Madam Secretary, is it pollen?”), a broader one about whether she was concerned about all the health-related conspiracy theories (“There are so many, I’ve lost track”) and another about whether she thought these health rumors were sexist (“Hmm, interesting”).....

By contrast, Leibovich goes after Republicans in his colorful profiles. "Paul Ryan Can't Lose," his 5,000-word cover story for the October 12, 2012 magazine was filled with hostile lines like "Skeptics say Ryan owes his superwonk standing as much to comparisons with his colleagues than to any great knowledge or depth." He bashed Republican Rep. Darrell Issa on July 7, 2010 as a "nuisance" and a "pest" for daring to give the Obama administration grief:

Leibovich was in the news himself, after the Wikileaks emails showed him mining for quote approval from the Clinton campaign for a profile in the summer of 2015. He emailed this to Clinton aide Jennifer Palmieri about his questions to Hillary and her responses: “i wanted the option to use all -- and you could veto what you didn't want. That's why i selected the 5 or 6 I sent to you.”

His defensive response is here.