Hillary Clinton, Master Troll? – The New York Times

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Is Hillary Clinton trolling us?

Over the past two weeks, Mrs. Clinton has called President Trump a “corrupt human tornado.” She’s refused to appear on a panel with Kirstjen Nielsen, the former homeland security secretary best known for separating migrant children from their families. She’s picked a fight with Representative Tulsi Gabbard, suggesting that the Hawaii congresswoman and presidential candidate is a favorite of the Russians. And she’s tweeted a letter mocking Mr. Trump with language that makes it unprintable in this family newsletter.

Welcome to Hillary Unplugged.

For most of her public career, Mrs. Clinton has been constrained by the expectations of her position, be it first lady, senator or secretary of state. Now, after her stunning loss in 2016, it seems she finally feels liberated to speak her mind.

And she’s certainly stirring up a lot of drama while doing it. The two-time Democratic presidential candidate continues to loom large in the psyche of her party — both as heroine and villain.

Some Democrats celebrate seeing Mrs. Clinton giving zero, uh, cares. Others, like Ms. Gabbard, see her criticism as a different kind of badge of honor. Several people who have spoken to Ms. Gabbard say privately that her team loves the controversy, seeing Mrs. Clinton as a perfect establishment foil for their stuck-in-the-single-digits campaign.

Mrs. Clinton is back in the news cycle because she’s been promoting a new book written with her daughter, Chelsea. The fact that her book tour coincided with impeachment proceedings in the House (something Mrs. Clinton knows a little about, given her role in both of the past two impeachments) was just good — or depending on your view, bad — timing.

“She has a unique and well-informed perspective,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton aide. “I want to hear from her.”

But Mrs. Clinton’s return to the spotlight comes as a number of Democratic Party officials — including some major donors, activists and black pastors in early voting states — are privately wondering whether she should jump into the primary race.

Publicly, Mrs. Clinton isn’t doing much to tamp down the speculation: “Maybe there does need to be a rematch. Obviously, I can beat him again,” she said in an interview on PBS this month, referring to her victory over Mr. Trump in the popular vote.

People who have spoken to Mrs. Clinton say she remains “wistful” about the idea of a third presidential run, though she has not taken steps to actually mount a bid and remains unlikely to do so.

Instead, she’s offered advice to nearly everyone in the Democratic field — save for her former primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Ms. Gabbard.

She has a friendly relationship with Senator Elizabeth Warren, last speaking with her in early September, and remains in regular touch with former Vice President Joe Biden. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Cory Booker have reached out repeatedly.

She has no plans to make an endorsement in the primary, say those close to her.

But, as her supporters argue, why should she stay silent — particularly given the strangeness of our political times? After all, former Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, has also flirted with running for president again.

And Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, admits to being a “lurker” in online political discourse, with a secret Twitter account under the name Pierre Delecto. (“C’est moi,” Mr. Romney told The Atlantic last night, after Slate exposed him.)

Mrs. Clinton, at least, trolls under her own name.

Mrs. Clinton isn’t the only Democrat facing calls to run for office. Oprah Winfrey wants Bob Iger, Disney’s chief executive, to jump into the race.

We’d love to hear from you. Are you afflicted with your own case of the what ifs? Whom would you like to see run for president? Or is the current field just fine, thank you very much?

Let us know and we might feature your comments in a future newsletter! Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com (please include your name and hometown if you’d like them to be included).

Our colleague Matt Stevens explains:

First, a bit of back story. At Tuesday night’s debate, moderators asked the Democratic presidential candidates about a friendship that might surprise people. Andrew Yang said he’d befriended a trucker and former Trump supporter named Fred.

The two men drove around in Fred’s truck for hours, Mr. Yang said, and eventually, Fred came around to support Mr. Yang for the nomination.

My colleagues — and probably more than a few people watching at home — were skeptical about this “Fred.” Was Fred about as real as Pierre Delecto?

“Who will interview Fred?” your newsletter host, Ms. Lerer, wrote in our live chat during the debate. “Find Fred!”

Well, it turns out Fred found us. And I interviewed him — first briefly by phone and then later with questions we sent by email at his request. (Fred wanted to coordinate with the communications director for the group “Truckers for Yang.” More on that later.)

Fred — his full name is Fred Ramey — told me that he “had a rough background as a kid” and at one point spent time in prison. Now he coaches felons and drug addicts.

Mr. Ramey, 43, of Maricopa, Ariz., said he was put in touch with Mr. Yang earlier this year by a friend who was also a trucker, and at first he resisted the idea of driving around with a politician. Then he listened to Mr. Yang discuss the threat of automation, which Mr. Yang says could put millions of truckers out of work. He came to like him. But he still worried about whether he could support a Democrat.

“Then I had this moment of clarity,” Mr. Ramey said. “I either need to live my values or get new ones.”

So they got in the truck. And Mr. Ramey said he “tried to do everything I could to offend” Mr. Yang. He pressed the candidate on whether he would “pander.” Did Mr. Yang even know what he was getting himself into?

“He took every negative I threw at him and turned it into a positive,” Mr. Ramey said. “I just needed to know that the candidate I now 100 percent believe in is a real person with real solutions for America.”

Mr. Yang, he added later, “connects with people who feel like they don’t matter or count.”

Now, Mr. Ramey said, he talks with Mr. Yang almost every week. He has become involved with the group “Truckers for Yang,” which recently put its first 53-foot custom-wrapped tractor-trailer on the road.

Mr. Ramey watched Tuesday’s debate, and he said he knew Mr. Yang would find a way to mention truckers.

But he appears unfazed by being thrust in the spotlight.

“There’s no real fame,” he said. “I’ve always just wanted to get Andrew in office, and it’s going to happen.”

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