TV appearances make sure Clinton won’t be forgotten
Hollywood did all it could to deposit Hillary Clinton back into the White House two-plus years ago. She dabbed on “Ellen,” riffed with Zach Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns” and got an “Avengers”-sized boost via a star-laden public service announcement dubbed “Save the Day” just before Election Day.
It’s happening again, but cultural mavens hold mixed opinions on why the former first lady is back in our living rooms and what impact, if any, it has on her political future.
Mrs. Clinton appeared late last month as a surprise guest on the premiere of CBS’s reboot of “Murphy Brown.” The show’s ratings proved soft, but given her cameo wasn’t trumpeted or leaked, the lack of public interest couldn’t be held against her.
She also dropped by the season premiere of CBS’s “Madam Secretary” a few days later, along with fellow former Secretaries of State Madeleine K. Albright and Colin L. Powell.
She followed up those appearances with a chat on CBS’s “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert.
“This does seem like a backdoor way to keep herself from becoming too forgotten in the minds of Hillary-friendly audiences of shows like ‘Murphy Brown’ and ‘Madam Secretary’ … although it’s fair to wonder whether Hillary Clinton will ever need help with name ID,” said Jim Geraghty, a blogger and contributor to the National Review. “It may be that when you’ve spent your entire adult life building towards a goal and that goal eludes you, this is what you do when you don’t have the Senate to return to or some other role in politics.
“Bob Dole did Viagra commercials. Al Gore went and made a documentary. Hillary makes cameos,” Mr. Geraghty said.
It’s not as if her political future is permanently closed. Some Democrats say she was defeated unfairly because of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Others suggest her third attempt at the White House could be the charm. A column in TheWeek. com is titled “How Hillary Clinton Could Win in 2020.”
Jeffrey McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, said the public can expect more appearances by Mrs. Clinton soon.
“She’s clearly eager to stay in the public eye, and television producers are happy to provide her a platform in which she can try to stay relevant,” Mr. McCall said. “Hillary is not going to provide a major ratings bump, but she does allow the producers to show their admiration and support of her. In that sense, the television establishment is, indeed, making a political statement about Hillary’s importance in the public sphere.”
Denver Post columnist and radio host Krista Kafer says she understands Mrs. Clinton’s motivations — to a point.
“It’s hard to get out of the limelight when you’ve been in it a long time. … She probably enjoys it. It’s fun to be on TV,” she said, adding that the former first lady’s “Between Two Ferns” clip showcased a sense of humor that has not always been obvious in her public appearances.
“Some people are very funny, but they don’t come off that way,” Ms. Kafer said.
Moreover, Mrs. Clinton did not embarrass herself in going toe-to-toe with “Murphy Brown” Emmy winner Candice Bergen.
Still, her new media wave may not be the best scenario for her political party, Ms. Kafer said. “If I were a Democrat, I wouldn’t be excited about that,” she said. “[The Clinton name] is a bit of a tarnished brand. … The more she’s in the public eye, the better it is for Republicans.”
Mrs. Clinton does have something substantial to promote these days beyond a future campaign: She embarks on a 13-city speaking tour next month along with her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The tour kicks off after the midterm elections.
Conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna said Mrs. Clinton’s media push boils down to “boomer arrogance.”
“It’s her simple failure to accept her responsibility for her loss in 2016,” said Ms. McKenna, whose weekday radio show is heard on WISN 1130 AM in Milwaukee. “She’s trying to reform her reputation from the damage done to it.”
The decisions could stem from her inner circle — folks still eager to polish her public persona.
“They’re trying to make her seem cool and appealing as a woman, as a cultural figure,” said Ms. McKenna, adding that Mrs. Clinton’s “Murphy Brown” cameo featured a “laid back” side of the former senator from New York. “They look at Bernie Sanders. The young folk thought he was cool.”
Mr. McCall said no amount of TV appearances can camouflage a hard truth for Mrs. Clinton.
“This kind of cameo stuff comes off as a novelty and won’t help resuscitate her career as a political leader,” he said. “Rhetorically, doing these television cameos almost signals that her real influence on the national stage is pretty much over.”