Two years after the fact, right-wing media are trying to flip the narrative that sunk their presidential aspirations in 2012 by charging that current personal wealth and the fees for paid speeches since leaving the State Department make former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “out of touch.” Often aided by Beltway reporters who are fixated on Clinton's so-called “money problem,” conservative pundits are trying to dispel any narrative that supports the majority of Americans's belief that the potential Democratic nominee for president can relate to and understands average citizens.
The facts show that Clinton's earnings on the speaking circuit are consistent with a number of men of similar prominence. According to one estimate, over 15 months from the end of her term as Secretary through May 2014, Clinton made $5 million dollars. In the 13 months before former Mayor Rudy Giuliani ran for president in 2007, he earned more than $11 million dollars, charging anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000. According to a number of reports former Secretary of State Colin Powell has received between $100,000 and $200,000 per speech, earning an estimated $6.7 million in speaking fees in 2000 alone.
As the charges against Clinton illustrate, the GOP still doesn't understand why the “out of touch” label resonated with voters in 2012. It wasn't former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's wealth, or that he did well financially during his time at Bain Capital. Rather it was the GOP presidential nominee's comments writing off 47 percent of the American electorate, claiming they just wanted “free stuff,” as well as his support for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as a job creation strategy while imposing steep spending cuts impacting everyone else.
In short, Romney really WAS out of touch. While the Clintons have done well financially since President Bill Clinton left office, Secretary Clinton has been consistent in her support for issues like increasing the minimum wage, paid family medical leave, and support for equal pay. She also has a long record advocating and supporting policies around the economic empowerment of women, the role they play in a nation's economy, and micro-lending, from her time as first lady of Arkansas to the White House to the State Department to the Clinton Foundation.
Enter former Florida governor Jeb Bush to the 2016 equation. Based on the conservative line of argument against Clinton, will the millions he's made on paid speeches since leaving office in 2007, or the $3.2 million in board fees and stock grants he's received from publicly traded companies, also label him “out of touch” in the eyes of conservative media? What about his million-dollar salary from Barclays or what the New York Times termed his “unapologetic determination to expand his wealth,” including “telling friends that his finances had suffered during his time in government” ?
Or, will conservative media hold Bush to the same standard they did for Romney in 2012, when they declared that neither his wealth, his offshore accounts, nor his record at Bain Capital were relevant issues in the election in evaluating Romney's candidacy? Back then such concerns were “an effort to distract” from real issues like jobs and the economy, as one Fox News anchor put it. Never mind that it was Romney himself who held out his Bain experience as evidence that he understood the economy and how things worked, yet didn't seem to have much regard for the impact of jobs lost when Bain shut down a company had on the personal economy of middle and low income people.
Even Romney now admits that his work at Bain Capital was a liability to his presidential aspirations, recently suggesting that because of his work in private equity Bush may also have a “Mitt Romney problem.” Or as described by a recent Bloomberg Politics report, “As a budding private equity mogul, he's begun to resemble a Mini-Mitt.”
The report examined a number of Bush's private sector enterprises, but it's the detail about the three funds he's launched through Britton Hill Holdings, which he co-founded in 2013, that could require some explaining. They include a $40 million fund focused on shale oil exploration and a $26 million fund called BH Logistics, which is backed in part by investors from China, where the Bush name carries significant clout. Bush was also recently named chairman and manager of an offshore private equity fund called BH Global Aviation. Incorporated in the United Kingdom, the firm is not subject to U.S. taxes or regulations and raised $61 million in September through unknown foreign investors.
Over the weekend Bush said that in an effort to promote transparency, he'd be releasing 250,000 emails from his time as governor of Florida and an e-book outlining his approach to governing. Those efforts will help frame his position on issues like education reform and immigration reform, which put him at odds with the Republican primary electorate and parts of the conservative press.
But given that its unlikely right-wing media will hold Governor Bush to the same standard as Secretary Clinton, will Bush also be transparent about the details of his time in the private sector? More broadly, will the media fully examine the “potential political problems” of Jeb Bush's “unapologetic” expansion of wealth?