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I'm Kinda Sorry: Hillary's Plays on Her Emailing Ways

03/13/2015 12:36 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2015

Let's face it, if the House of Cards character Frank Underwood was found to have used personal email to conduct his business, he'd be in big trouble. To escape his detractors, he'd run the high-risk Crazy Ivan, Little Round Top style, to stun his enemy with guts and guile.

But the plays of real politicos are decidedly less dramatic as we we saw this week with Hillary Clinton.  Instead of running at the revelations of her private email service, she preferred to finesse the foment with signature testing, freezing and diverting strategies as defined in The Standard Table of Influence.  To wit, these quotes...

  • I'M KINDA SORRY  "I did it for convenience, and now looking back I think it might have been smarter to have two devices from the very beginning."  Her play was a half-hearted Disco, the strategy of apology or contrition, and never a good play to run at half-speed.
  • I'M JUST SAYING NO  "The server will remain private."  This was a Jam, the play that crosses the wires of an otherwise straight-forward matter.  Jams are often used to obstruct as much as confuse, like lawmakers who reflexively say no or enjoy the filibuster.
  • I'M SAYING JUST CUZ  "That is the way the system works," Hillary declared of government email rules.  If indeed this is true, her play was a no-spin Fiat.  If not, her play was a Trump to flip a weakness into a strength.

Clinton's exchanges with media were also telling and rich with strategies.  Here are four examples:

  • I'M A DECIDER, AND I'M INTERESTING  A reporter probed, "Can you explain how you decided which of the personal emails to get rid of?  And how you'll respond to questions about you being the arbiter of what you release?"  Clinton confirmed that, yep, she and her people were the deciders of such things.  Her play was a partial Lantern of partial self-disclosure.  But then she did something more clever.  She ran a Ping.  "Once the American public begins to see [my] emails they will have an unprecedented insight into a high-government official's daily communications which I think will be quite interesting."  This was to suggest that her work as Secy. of State will be not only interesting but impressive.
  • IF YOU SUPPORT ME, YOU SUPPORT WOMEN  When Clinton was asked to explain contributions to her family's foundation by countries with track records of abuse toward women she ran a Bear Hug, expressing her pride in the foundation.  But then she pivoted with another Ping: "There can't be any mistake about my passion concerning women's rights here at home and around the world.  I think that people who want to support the foundation know full well what it is we stand for and what we're working on."  Her message to donors:If you contribute to my cause, I'll hold you to it.
  • ASK A MILLION OTHERS  When asked for reassurance that her email deletions were proper, Hillary shifted the point of the question to the massive federal employee base.  Her play was a Red Herring, the strategy of deliberate distraction.  Hillary answered, "...you have to ask that question to every single federal employee because...they make the decision. And so we trust and count on the judgment of thousands maybe millions of people to make those decisions."
  • NO-ANSWER ANSWERS  To questions about independent audits of the Clinton email server and her plans to run for president, Hillary ran Passes that blatantly ignored the thrust of the questions.

Hillary Clinton's not as crazy as Frank Underwood (or Claire), but while in this round of political play action she was at times bold and presidential she was mostly cautious and unconvincing.  A few less Red Herrings and more of her clever Pings might have kept us guessing.  As it is, she lost the week and crucial momentum toward an announced candidacy.

Graphic courtesy of Playmaker Systems, LLC.

Reader's Note: To view the play action described above, visit http://bit.ly/18bL8Xy at the 7:52 and 15:06 marks.  Want to call your own plays?  Download the Playcaller App at http://apple.co/1EzQ2eL and select the "Call the Play" option.  Read this blog for more about the plays of House of Cards.