Shortly after Hillary Clinton sat for a long, grueling day of testimony in front of the House committee that was investigating the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks, her top campaign aides struggled over what tone she should strike at an upcoming campaign appearance.
They batted around an idea of making fun of the hairstyles of House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“On freshening things up, what about: I used to be obsessed with Donald Trump’s hair, that was until I got to spend 11 hours staring at the top of Trey Gowdy’s head.”
“On freshening things up, what about: I used to be obsessed with Donald Trump’s hair, that was until I got to spend 11 hours staring at the top of Trey Gowdy’s head,” campaign Chairman John Podesta suggested in an email on Oct. 24, 2015.
That set off a debate among top staffers. The exchanges are included in a massive document dump of Podesta’s emails by WikiLeaks on Friday.
Clinton was to deliver remarks that night at the Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner in Des Moines, Iowa. Two days earlier, she sat for 11 hours of grilling by members of the Benghazi committee. Her aides clearly were pleased with her performance.
Clinton aide Mandy Grunwald: “LOVE the Trey Gowdy line. Just wonder if that undercuts our statesmanship point too much.”
Podesta replied that he thought it was OK.
“That’s because you love your own joke,” campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri replied. “But I think it is OK.”
Palmieri suggested working an idea from President Bill Clinton into the mix.
“You all think wjc’s [Bill Clinton’s] joke is too much about her kinda wishing after hour 8 that Bernie would come through the door with his damn email line?” Palmieri asked. “I think it’s funny and confident and the room would love it.”
Strategist Jake Sullivan wrote that he liked the Gowdy joke, but added, “I think HRC should stay above the committee — and especially above personal insults about it. She’s got every inch of the high ground right now.”
Palmieri wrote, “Wow. You people are a bunch of ninnies.”
Responded pollster and consultant Joel Benenso: “Not ninnies. We own the high ground right now. We should stay there.”
In the end, the joke did not make it into the speech. Instead, Clinton sought to maintain the high-ground theme by contrasting a recent Democratic primary debate with the GOP’s free-for-all encounters.
“You know, when Republicans debate they compete to insult each other, demean women, and they double down on trickle-down,” she said. “Actually, it is reality TV with a cast of characters who don’t care much about actual reality.”