Hillary Clinton, facing direct criticism about her trustworthiness from rival Donald Trump, admitted Monday she needs to do more to earn voters’ trust.
“I personally know I have work to do on this front,” Clinton said at a Rainbow Push Collation luncheon, from prepared remarks. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, spoke at length about a deterioration of trust throughout the country and institutions, but argued that her own trustworthiness issues are a byproduct of politicians looking to score political points and “25 years’ worth of wild accusations.”
“A lot of people tell pollsters they don’t trust me. Now I don’t like hearing that and I have thought a lot about what is behind it,” she said.
Clinton has long struggled to explain why voters don’t trust her, but Monday marked the most thorough and comprehensive attempt she has made to address the issue during this campaign.
“It certainly is true, I have made mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t,” she said, while still maintaining outside factors – such as partisan attacks – are also to blame for the perception.
Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short pointed to Clinton’s email controversy as one high-profile, self-inflicted reason for voter distrust.
“Hillary Clinton need not look further than her own dishonest and reckless conduct for why Americans lack faith in their government,” he said in a statement.
Trump, looking to drive Clinton’s negative poll numbers higher, has started to attack Clinton’s trustworthiness. He has labeled her “Crooked Hillary” and used a speech last week to cast her as a craven politician who is only running to benefit herself.
The strategy is driven by a number of polls which show Clinton’s struggling with honesty and trustworthiness in the eyes of the voters. A New York Times/CBS News poll earlier this year found that 64% of voters answered “no” when asked if they felt Clinton was “honest and trustworthy” though the same said that of Trump as well.
On Monday, Clinton said she understood people having questions about her and acknowledged that she has to earn it.
“Now maybe we can persuade people to change their minds by marshaling facts and making arguments to rebut negative attacks,” Clinton said. “But that doesn’t work for everyone. You can’t just talk to someone about trusting you. You have got to earn it.”
Clinton also took on the idea held by even people close to her that the carefulness she shows with her words and rhetoric lead some people to believe she is hiding something.
“Yes, I can say, the reason I sometimes sound careful with my words, it is not that I am hiding something, it is just that I am careful with my words,” Clinton said. “I believe what you say actually matters. I think that is true in life and it is especially true if you are president. So I do think before I speak.”
Opponents, Clinton said, “have accused me of every crime in the book.”
“None of it is true, never has been,” she said. “But accusations like that never really disappear when they are out there. And a lot of what people read about me in certain corners of the internet and a lot of what Donald Trump says about me is just that same nonsense. But, I know trust has to be earned.”
Living in the public eye for decades has taken a toll on the view many have of Clinton – and filled her biography with questionable stories and conspiracy theories. Clinton is regularly confronted with those issues: Protesters outside her events routinely question her role in the Benghazi attack, her time in the White House and decisions her family made while living in the Arkansas governor’s mansion.
Clinton said she has had to earn the trust of voters before, including when she ran for Senate in New York in 2000 and when she ran for president in 2008.
“So here is what I say to voters who may have doubts: No one will fight harder for your or your families than I will. You can count on that,” she said. “I have been called a lot of things but ‘quitter’ is not one of them.”