As the Clinton Global Initiative, the largest annual conference associated with the recently renamed Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, wrapped up on Thursday, it became clear how hard it is to separate its ambitions from that of Hillary Clinton's. But the Clinton name also carries with it a lot of baggage, some of which will come back into circulation between now and 2016. Here's our guess which.
Clinton has learned a lot since the 2008 election, when her campaign was was crippled by mismanagement compared to the "No Drama" Obama campaign. "She doesn't repeat her mistakes," Melanne Verveer, a former Clinton aide, told New York's Joe Hagan. But the publication of Hagan's article — in which Clinton publicly admits for the first time that she's considering running for president in 2016 — just so happened to coincide at the beginning of the week with the publication of Alec MacGillis' New Republic profile of Doug Band, the Bill Clinton aide recently pushed out of the Clinton Global Initiative for exploiting his access to the former president to enrich himself.
There's an entire cottage industry dedicated to tallying both fake and real instances of questionable decisions made by the Clintons and it is no doubt planning for a potential Clinton 2016 run. And, to tell you the truth, while there's been no shortage of conspiracy theories about President Obama, the last five years of Fox News, World Net Daily "Exclusives," and Congressional investigations looks downright boring by comparison. Benghazi was about Sunday show talking points. Solyndra was a failed green energy company. The scandal at the IRS turned out to be less of one when it was revealed the agency inappropriately targeted both conservative and progressive groups. Obama conspiracy theories are about his birth certificate, not cocaine smuggling.
As Hillary dips her toe into the 2016 race, we're reminded what real scandals look like, and the great heights to which conspiracy theories can soar. Below is our Venn diagram of the classic Clinton scandals, including the conspiracy theories. We've divided them into three categories — sex, money, and sleaze — and noted their degree of realness, with green being the most true, yellow having some elements of truth, and red being false.
But more importantly, we've assessed how likely each is to reappear around 2015 or so as a campaign talking point if Clinton decides to run. To help guide us, we looked at Google Trend traffic for each, that is, how often people were searching for the subject. The higher the line, the more people care about the scandal. (We used 1991 world all-around champion gymnast Kim Zmeskal as a control; interest in her appears in blue, and tends to spike slightly during the Olympics.)
We rated the scandal reemergence quotient by whether the story would get mainstream attention — a related story in The New York Times — or mostly get picked up in conservative media, like Fox News or the site Breitbart.com. The lowest rated stories will more likely appear on the birther site WND, or get no attention at all.
|Sex, Sleaze||Clinton had sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.||True||Medium. As the trend line shows, interest in Lewinsky has remained high, even though her internship ended almost 20 years ago. But the last time someone tried to make political hay out of the sex scandal was probably when Dick Cheney promised George W. Bush would "restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office" in 2000. We expect Fox News to keep up its coverage of Lewinsky.|
|Sex||Hillary is gay.||False||Low. Gennifer Flowers gave an interview to The Daily Mail making this claim in September, but it is highly unlikely to gain traction in a campaign. Interest in the topic is currently far below that of the gymnastics champion.|
|Sex||Anthony Weiner is embarrassing.||Obviously true||Medium. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is Hillary’s longtime aide. A “close associate” of Abedin’s told New York that Abedin would have to choose between Weiner and Hillary. (It won't matter but that doesn't mean people around thinking about a Clinton 2016 run aren't worried. Still, as the search spikes for the initial Weiner sext scandal and this summer's sequel shows, interest in what Weiner does with his web browser seems to be tapering off.|
|Sex||Gennifer Flowers had an affair of disputed length with Bill Clinton.||True||Medium. Gennifer Flowers likes to be interviewed. She has a website with glamour shots. As the trend line shows, just because Flowers likes talking doesn't mean people like listening. But if the 2008 campaign is any guide, interest will return in conservative media as the election heats up.|
|Sex||Paula Jones accused Clinton of sexually harassing her.||Settled a lawsuit with no public admission||Medium. Clinton’s impeachment will undoubtedly come up in 2016. As with Flowers, interest in Jones has dropped off significantly. But Fox interviewed Jones repeatedly in the mid-2000s.|
|Sex||Juanita Broaddrick accused Clinton of rape.||False||Low. Broaddick has not gotten much attention, despite a 2005 press release announcing she would tour the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, “to draw attention to the former president's treatment of women.”|
|Sex, Sleaze||In the late 2000s Bill Clinton frequently hung out with billionaire Ron Burkle in a private plane aides dubbed "Air Fuck One."||True, though the middle word is subject to interpretation||Certain. This is a newer, fresher scandal of the post-presidential years, unlike the many others, which are almost 20 years old. And The New York Times has already shown an interest in pursuing investigative reports into the Clinton philanthropy network.|
|Sex, Money||Arkansas state troopers were paid by conservative groups for stories that they helped procure women for Clinton to sleep with.||Unclear||Medium. History seems to indicate Troopergate will get a brief mention and then disappear again.|
|Sex, Money, Sleaze||Former Clinton aide Doug Band helped Clinton score in office, helped himself do so after.||Apparently true||Certain. The spike following TNR's report on Band is small. But there is potential for new revelations related to Clinton's post-presidential web.|
|Money||The Clintons and their friends the MacDougals establish a real estate company linked to questionable business practices — and some suggestions of a cover-up.||Mixed truth, but largely exaggerated||Low. Whitewater was the major first-term scandal. But the details are less than exciting. Interest in it is next to nothing. It did not come up in 2008.|
|Money, Sleaze||Hillary had White House counsel Vincent Foster murdered to cover up Whitewater.||False||Medium. This would be more likely to reemerge as an example of Republicans being driven crazy by the Clintons since a member of Congress shot a pumpkin to “prove” Foster could not have committed suicide. It did not come up in 2008, either.|
|Money, Sleaze||Clinton smuggled cocaine to fund his 1992 election.||False||Low. No evidence, no interest.|
|Money, Sleaze||Clinton pardoned financier Marc Rich on the day he left office.||True, though the argument that it was pay-for-play for campaign contributions is iffy.||Medium. Rich was pardoned on Clinton's last day in office, and interest in him spiked when he died in June. The scandal will be more than 15 years old in the next campaign, but it plays into the idea that cash buys influence with Clinton.|
|Money||The White House Lincoln Bedroom became an overnight perk for donors.||True||Zero. Compared to the rest of these? Far too boring for the current crop of political reporters.|
|Money||Chinese agents attempted to make illegal campaign contributions to Democrats.||True||Zero. See above.|
|Sleaze||The Clintons fired White House Travel Office staff to hire their friends.||False, though the firings did take place||Low. Travelgate dates to 1993, early in Clinton's first term, and was more of a shot across the couple's bow than anything. But Hillary was blamed, so it could theoretically emerge, but it didn't really in the 2008 cycle.|
|Sleaze||Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was killed by the president's agents before he could testify before a House committee.||False||Low. This theory was always on the outer fringe of the universe of conspiracy theories. It's not heavily related to Hillary. Interest jumped somewhat in 2008, but tapered off.|
|Sleaze||Linda Tripp, who helped Lewinsky reveal details of the affair with Clinton, was fired in retribution.||False||Low. As with Travelgate, this is pretty far removed from actual malfeasance, even if true. Unlike Travelgate, Hillary isn't implicated. Tripp didn't even have much of a spike in 2008.|
|Sleaze||Hillary is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood through Huma Abedin.||False||Medium. This theory that gained traction after the attack on the embassy at Benghazi. Assuming that Abedin is still a member of Clinton's staff — or even not — it will come up again.|
|Sleaze||Clinton had a rising "body count" from his time in office of various people he had murdered for various reasons.||False||Low. These claims were, at best, idiotic. They're also tangential to Hillary.|