What if this is as good as it gets?
You have to wonder if that's what Hillary Clinton's handlers are saying to each other right about now.
Of course, that's not what they're saying in public -- or on background to the press.
The New York Times reported this week that Clinton plans to be spontaneous from now on:
"There will be no rope lines to wall off crowds, which added to an impression of aloofness. And there will be new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious."
I don't blame Times reporter Amy Chozick for being so passive in her writing. But just for the record, there was no "impression" of aloofness. There was -- and always has been -- aloofness. Nor did the candidacy "seem" wooden and overly cautious. It is wooden and overly cautious, because Clinton is wooden and overly cautious.
And that won't change.
Consider what you just read. The Clinton team is responding to the fact that Clinton is inauthentic and scripted by floating a trial balloon to the New York Times about her plan to be spontaneous.
The Clinton campaign is officially only five months old. But the real campaign is closer to 20 years old. People have been talking about -- and plotting -- her run for president since her husband said a vote for him was also a vote for her and amounted to getting "two for the price of one."
In that time, Hillary Clinton has had any number of makeovers. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto recently cataloged many of Clinton's rebranding efforts. In 1999, as she planned her Senate run, her image consultant, Mandy Grunwald, and the rest of the team tried to "humanize" her. "Be real," Grunwald advised her in a memo. Oh, and "look for opportunities for humor. It's important that people see more sides of you, and they often see you only in very stern situations."
In February, the Washington Post reported that Clinton had assembled an A-team of branding consultants to help "imagine Hillary 5.0."
"It's exactly the same as selling an iPhone or a soft drink or a cereal," Peter Sealey, a longtime corporate marketing strategist, told the Post. "She needs to use everything a brand has: a dominant color, a logo, a symbol. ... The symbol of a Mercedes is a three-pointed star. ... The symbol of McDonald's is the golden arches. What is Clinton's symbol?"
How about a downward-trending arrow?
The number of Americans who view her unfavorably has doubled since she was secretary of state. An elderly socialist from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent is beating her in New Hampshire and is poised to overtake her in Iowa. The percentage of Democrats who say they'll vote for Clinton has dropped 18 percent since April.
In July, New York Times writer Mark Leibovich wrote of the difficult effort to get voters to see the "real" Hillary. In his essay, "Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton," he noted how friends of Hillary see a different person than what's on the stump. No doubt that's true.
But there's a huge assumption behind such talk. It's a well-known fact that friends and supplicants of very powerful people tend to be biased about how fantastic those people are. No doubt members of Justin Bieber's entourage think he's one of the world's great musical talents.
Consider Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer-lobbyist and professional Clinton defender. In one of the emails released by the State Department, Davis tells Clinton, "I consider you to be the best friend and the best person I have met in my long life. You know that from the dedication and appreciation of you I have always felt and expressed to you over four decades."
This obsequiousness goes on for three pages, all in an effort to get Clinton to say nice things to a reporter for American Lawyer doing a piece about Davis' new firm. Clinton was never quoted in the piece.
Now maybe Davis really does think Clinton is the best person and best friend he's ever had. (Take that, mom, dad, wife et al.) Though I'd like to think my best friend wouldn't need so much sucking up -- and would actually deliver. Still, do we really think his view of Clinton is less biased than that of the average informed news consumer?
The simple fact is that the Hillary Clinton you see -- controlled, defensive, out of touch -- is the only Hillary Clinton there is or ever will be, and no amount of re-re-re-re-branding will change that.
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Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.