Hillary Clinton embraces past in New Hampshire, calls scandals ‘distractions’

Former President Clinton speaks at Georgetown University in Washington.
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

On the second day of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s swing through this key primary state on Tuesday, her schedule included a pitch about the importance of “the jobs of tomorrow.” But as was often the case on her first trip here as a presidential candidate, there were reminders of yesterday.

Clinton can’t help but wax nostalgic on the campaign trail even as she seeks to reboot the Clinton brand. As she hopped around New Hampshire this week, she expressed her fondness for the state by drawing on experiences that, for better or worse, reminded voters how long the Clintons have been in their lives. She recalled the fun of celebrating her birthday on the Granite State campaign trail for Bill Clinton — 24 years ago. As she greeted cafeteria workers, talk turned to the time they met him.

Meanwhile, on another college campus several hundred miles away in Washington, her husband was reminiscing about his interactions with such foreign leaders as Helmut Kohl and Nelson Mandela. He said in a speech at Georgetown University that he “loved being in public life,” which he equated to “peeling an onion that had no end.”


“We’re not big on quitting in my family,” he said at one point. “You may have noticed that.”

It’s been more than two decades since the Clintons first campaigned nationally with Fleetwood Mac’s anthem “Don’t Stop” (thinking about tomorrow) — a length of time that has already invited one potential foe to call Hillary Clinton a “candidate of yesterday.”

But the Clinton campaign is embracing her experience, not distancing itself from it.

Throughout her stops in New Hampshire and last week in Iowa, Clinton seemed intent on demonstrating her fluency with the issues that came through decades in public service — and suggesting that sometimes experience is needed to know when to change course.

“We’ve got to be imagining outside the old box,” Clinton said at a factory that makes play kitchens and other early-childhood furniture, as she steered the roundtable discussion to how to reinvigorate manufacturing. “It is not enough just to tread water. We need to get ahead and stay ahead.”

But as Clinton tried to frame her family’s political history as an asset, there were times in New Hampshire when it was a nuisance.

It felt like the 1990s all over again this week as she took her first questions from the media since launching her campaign. The questions related to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against the Clintons — a term she used during her husband’s administration to describe a cottage industry of ideologically driven partisans who developed a massive following investigating alleged Clinton misdeeds.

The conservatives’ efforts have only grown bigger over the years.

The latest allegations involve the many millions of dollars Bill Clinton and the family’s foundation solicited from foreign governments — some with troubling human rights records — at the same time those governments were seeking help from the Obama administration, where Hillary Clinton was secretary of State.

But it might as well have been Whitewater, the early Clinton scandal involving a real estate deal gone bad that set off a years-long investigation by a special counsel. Eventually, the U.S. House impeached President Clinton on unrelated charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. He was acquitted in the Senate.

Hillary Clinton seemed to draw from 20-year-old White House talking points in responding to the new accusations involving the foundation. It all comes with being a Clinton, she told reporters, so get ready for more.

“We will be subjected to all kinds of distraction and attacks,” she said in New Hampshire on Monday.

Some Democrats could do without the deja vu.

“I just don’t know if we need those distractions right now,” said Nancy Burke, a retired teacher who was taking part in a peace protest in downtown Concord. Asked to be specific, she responded, “The Clintons,” meant as the catchall that includes decades-old controversies as well as newer ones, such as the private email server Clinton used while running the State Department.

“It takes the eye off the main thrust of what we need to do, whether they are her fault or not,” Burke said. “I just would hope that we as a country have moved beyond the Clintons.”

In Washington, the audience that Bill Clinton addressed included a handful of longtime members of the Clinton orbit surrounded by undergrads who remember little or nothing of his time in the White House.

Clinton was asked where he saw the students’ generation going, and how their path would be different. His expansive answer covered technological and medical advances, warnings about the “calamitous consequences” of climate change and nuclear weapons and his hope that we will “more fairly apportion the wealth we are creating.”

Daria Labazova, a sophomore who submitted the question, said after the speech that most of what she knows about Clinton’s presidency comes from her parents. But she was impressed by how he related to her generation, “even though he wasn’t really our president.”

She said her peers feel “reinvigorated” by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, not just because of her potential historic role as the first female president, “but also as someone who isn’t afraid to get to the nitty-gritty problems.”

“We don’t really want to hear what our parents heard. We want to go in a new path — less about politics and more about solving our problems,” she said.

Halper reported from Concord and Memoli from Washington.