We've long known that a Clinton candidacy comes with baggage. The current email flap is only the latest example on a list that includes Whitewater and Benghazi, plus Brian Williams-style exaggeration about perilous trips to war zones. And then there is Bill Clinton's foundation and all of its curious fundraising.
Opponents have plenty of fodder, including Mrs. Clinton's sometimes off-putting, seemingly egocentric style, but it never seemed to matter – until now.
The other day we saw Hillary Clinton conduct an awkward news conference regarding the private email account she used while Secretary of State. We also saw Kate McKinnon unveil a devilishly biting Clinton parody on "Saturday Night Live." Both were quite funny, but only one was intended to be.
Jon Stewart has begun blasting away at Clinton on "The Daily Show," and Time magazine's cover asks, "The Clinton way. They write their own rules. Will it work this time?"
Running a country is clearly about substance, but running for president is increasingly about style. Barack Obama was charming and charismatic during the '08 campaign. What Chris Matthews said on TV – "I feel a thrill going up my leg" – was an odd choice of words for a network commentator, but it was something millions of us understood.
For 2016, three things worry Democrats.
First, Clinton as a cartoon character. Tina Fey's Sarah Palin only confirmed what the public already thought about the former Alaska governor – but the sketches empowered people to say it out loud. Kate McKinnon has a year and a half to undress Clinton.
Second, there is no backup plan. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Jim Webb are all solid citizens but none has any chance whatsoever to be president in '16. Democrats have cleared a path for Clinton, perhaps overlooking the fact that while she seemed invincible early in the '08 campaign it quickly melted away. This time, there's no one in the bullpen.
Finally, support is a slippery slope. Clinton's email debacle pushed some liberal commentators to question her candidacy for the first time. So far these are just warning shots, but once key pundits turn on a candidate, party leaders follow. Then big donors take note, followed eventually by the voters themselves.
Clinton has the chance to be the first woman president – an incredible landmark for the nation following its bold selection of the first African-American president. Her political views are solid, her resume is now strong and her network of global allies will serve her, and us, well.
But if she's at all humble, she must show it. If she cares about facts, she can't treat reporters with contempt. She should speed up the process by announcing once and for all that she's running for president. Then, start talking about real issues.
American voters want substance and style. Hillary Clinton's style needs a complete makeover – and we're not talking about haircuts or pants suits.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle syndicate.