The three biggest mistakes Hillary Clinton is making right now

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has been on a bit of a losing streak lately. She did pull out a technical victory in the Kentucky primary on Tuesday, but she lost the Oregon contest and simply cannot shake Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders. To make matters worse, her national poll numbers against Donald Trump are also starting to sag. Two of those polls now show Mrs. Clinton behind Trump, and one poll shows her unfavorable ratings soaring to an all-time high.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
Aaron Bernstein | Reuters
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

So, what's Hillary doing wrong? The answer is: a lot of things. But let's narrow it down to the three biggest dumb things she and her campaign continue to do.

1. She’s taking a dive off of the platitude plateau

Is there a coffee table book called "Platitudes for Every Occasion?" If so, Hillary definitely owns it. Worse, she seems to have been consulting it as her primary political guidebook since 1999. It's sad that a woman who based her earlier career thinking boldly about policies and taking ideological risks has been positively boring, cautious, and predictable ever since she first became a candidate for the Senate.

Even on a new media platform like Twitter, Clinton's statements are still as rigid as an old-style direct mail pamphlet.


I guess Hillary didn't get the memo, but it's not exactly the policy statements that have set the world on fire for Trump and even Sanders. It's the fact that both of them always seem to be talking and especially Tweeting in a natural, real, and definitely un-sanitized way.

As academic and social critic Camille Paglia noted earlier this week, Mrs. Clinton's campaign messages and operation seem "slow and heavy," and like the "admiral of a bullion-laden armada of Spanish galleons, a low-in-the-water easy mark as they creak and sway amid the rolling swells."

It's not going to be easy for Clinton to come off as off-the-cuff as Trump does, but that's okay. Plenty of voters are uneasy about that anyway. But she needs to loosen up and at least make it look more like she's the one actually making the statements and Tweeting, and not just saying or typing something her massive campaign staff and handlers have vetted for six days first.

Another good way to do this right would be to talk and Tweet about a few things that have nothing to do with politics once in a awhile. Being non-political from time to time is good way to humanize yourself. Surely she must have some interests that aren't political… right?

2. She’s letting Trump drive the agenda

Looking to mine Trump's high unfavorables isn't a bad idea, but Hillary should leave that to the negative ad masters and chose her own topics. Like the 16 GOP candidates Trump eviscerated in the primaries, she is making the mistake of spending most of her time focused on him and refuting his statements and supposed policies.

That leaves a lot of undecided moderate voters wondering what Mrs. Clinton is for exactly. So far, anyone asking that question is just seeing a lot of platitudes, (see mistake #1), and that's not nearly enough in a year when the voting public is angrier and hungrier for change.

But Hillary's mistake in this area is even bigger when you consider she's spent more than a week now clamoring for Trump to release his tax returns. In fact, it appears to be her top political goal at the moment.

I'm not sure how many Clinton staffers think it's a good idea to impugn the integrity of someone based on a refusal to fully release documents, but those people need to be fired or at least reassigned to the Clinton Foundation right away.

For a woman who's been dogged by unreleased financial documents, destroyed emails, and wiped servers for the better part of 25 years now, this is simply not the smart path to take. And with her legal status still in doubt over her State Department email scandal, this is like the pot calling the kettle black on steroids.

Similarly unwise is her continued insistence on bringing up women's issues as much as possible. Here's another memo to the Hillary camp: you've already got the feminist vote sewn up. But the more you talk about women's issues, the more license Trump has to attack Bill Clinton's long record of sexual scandals and accusations. And every time Trump does that, Mrs. Clinton falls in the polls. Shutting up about all the women's issues we already know Hillary supports would be a win/win.

3. She’s not breaking with President Obama… on ANYTHING

This is a dicey one to be sure, as it's always hard for the new presidential candidate from the incumbent party to break out of the shadow of the sitting two-term president. But Sanders' stubborn popularity is daily proof that a lot of Democratic Party voters are clearly not satisfied with the Obama agenda and record.

Some experts believe Hillary's been especially hindered from appearing to oppose the Obama White House because she's so desperately in need of a large African American voter turnout that only President Obama's strong support can ensure, and there's a chance the administration could do something to encourage the Department of Justice to indict her over the email investigation.

But in 2008 and now, an overly cautious approach has doomed both of Hillary Clinton's national campaigns to the point that it really turns the voters off. If she could choose to oppose an Obama administration policy that does not define the White House but still has all voters at least uneasy, it might just work to set her apart.

One such issue is the NSA's massively boosted surveillance programs during the last seven years. Not only would that attract some voter attention if it were done right and without the usual mealy mouthed approach, but it might also win Hillary even more fans and donors from Silicon Valley.

As noted above, there's a lot more wrong with the Clinton campaign. The fact that she still can't decidedly defeat a 74-year-old backbencher socialist Senator who only officially joined her party last year and is also starting to weaken vs. an undisciplined political neophyte like Trump prove that beyond a doubt.

But if she would focus on fixing or at least improving her top three problems right now, Hillary might be able to salvage her political future.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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