Hillary Clinton's Twitter Campaign

Hillary Clinton's Twitter Campaign
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Republicans are wondering where Hillary Clinton is “hiding." Well, the answer may be this simple: Twitter.

Unlike her Republican opponents, or even her potential Democratic challengers, Clinton has maintained a low profile so far this year—absent from early and swing states, big ballrooms and small living rooms, and the hallways of government offices that all would require her to engage with media and the public.

Accessibility to Clinton and her campaign is at a premium. (A Clinton spokesman declined to comment for this article.) So a tweet from the presumed Democratic nominee sounds more like a roar.

Clinton has taken to Twitter to weigh in on major issues of the day. She’s not prolific—she’s only tweeted six times this year—but she can be influential. Twitter allows her to choose if she wants to insert herself into the conversation, and when. It provides a way for her to generate a healthy dose of publicity in a news cycle without the immediate imperative to elaborate or answer questions. And, it allows her to ding opponents.

Clinton can launch a debate when she chooses, with as few words as she chooses. But there will come a point when the presidential hopeful will have to engage beyond 140 characters—especially as she starts to assume the role of the nominee and, by default, the new leader of the Democratic Party.

For now, though, the strategy appears to be working for the candidate who seems to prefer strategic silence to scrutiny.

“It doesn’t work for everyone, but it certainly works for her because she’s already got the stature, and she’s actually done a really good job not weighing in on everything, because then her voice gets diluted,” says Keith Kincaid, a Democratic media consultant. “Every five times she doesn’t comment makes the one time she does that much more effective.”

Last week, for example, she addressed the vaccine controversy late in the day after a media storm had already consumed her potential GOP rivals. “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids,” she wrote, using the hashtag “GrandmotherKnowsBest.”

“Social media moves fast, but slowing down can be a plus in certain situations, like Hillary Clinton’s. Because she has time, she doesn’t have to be the first to weigh in,” Kincaid says. “She can wait, see how it's playing out and where the pitfalls are. She can sit on her perch and watch the game go on and insert herself when she is ready."

The 127-character tweet on vaccines gave way to an array of news stories, from her jabbing and zinging Chris Christie and Rand Paul to how grandmotherhood shapes her campaign. There were also comparisons to her past statements about vaccines. But Clinton left her response at that. The conversation, as far as she was concerned, was over.

“What that shows is they [Clinton's campaign strategists] really understand the impact social media can make in really light-touch interventions,” says Matthew McGregor, who ran the Obama campaign’s digital rapid response and is now the political director of Blue State Digital.

“The platform gives her a chance to insert herself into the discussion in a really easy way that doesn’t require the traditional trappings of a campaign, but does allow her to get her words into the discussion,” he says. "Twitter is, in some ways unique, such as it's like a press room, the place where the media discussion happens."

Last month, during congressional debate over a spending measure that included revisions to the financial reform law, Clinton decided to enter the conversation that had been dominated by Elizabeth Warren. “Attacking financial reform is risky and wrong,” she tweeted. “Better for Congress to focus on jobs and wages for middle class families.”

Republicans don’t want Clinton to get away with this social media strategy for much longer, especially as a potentially divisive and long primary builds up on their side. This week, the Republican National Committee launched a “Hillary’s Hiding” campaign, tracking the number of times her campaign has declined to comment in articles and her lack of public appearances, especially in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

“If she wants to lead the American people, surely she can face the American people,” Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer in a statement.

Clinton is reportedly expected to meet with the mayor of London during his visit to New York City on Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. Clinton is also expected to appear at an Emily’s List event in her honor next month in Washington.

And just because Clinton is physically absent from the campaign trail now doesn’t immunize her against coverage and scrutiny. Several news organizations already have staff on the Clinton campaign beat, and more plan to. Each development in the build-up to her campaign will give way to news. And, since she is the presumed Democratic nominee, calls for clear campaign vision and policy will increase. The New York Times recently reported on the challenges the campaign faces in developing its economic platform, for example.

Still, analysts say while there will come a point this year for her to engage the public beyond social media, she can afford to maintain her strategy for now.

“Sometimes people complain they might not hear enough, but when she uses social media she utilizes it very effectively,” says one Democratic strategist. “When she makes a point she gets a lot of traction, and breaks through the drumbeat of the press.” Unlike a press release, well-timed tweets are more likely to be seen and become viral. And, to the dismay of the press corps, with whom Clinton already has a tense relationship, it cuts out any mediators.

The upside for campaigns is the ability to very directly and very quickly intervene, says McGregor. “It allows you to be quick, be in complete control of what it is you're saying, and add a little bit of humanity that traditional media doesn’t always allow." 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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