After months of unremitting bad news and cratering poll numbers, Hillary Clinton finally enjoyed a good week. On Oct. 21 Vice President Joe Biden, potentially her most formidable opponent, declined to challenge her. The following day Mrs. Clinton testified coolly before the Benghazi Select Committee, after which the media declared that Republicans hadn’t laid a glove on her. Two days later, amid improving poll numbers, Iowa Democrats received her warmly at their annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
But although last week’s events helped Mrs. Clinton in the short run, they may make her a weaker candidate in next year’s general election.
First, Joe Biden might have been a useful foil. The ever-loyal Uncle Joe would have supported President Barack Obama’s actions down the line, making Mrs. Clinton look like a candidate of change by comparison. Now she must work harder to depict herself as offering a fresh start, rather than the third term of a president the nation is tiring of.
Defeating a sitting vice president for the Democratic nomination would have strengthened Mrs. Clinton. Ronald Reagan was a better candidate for having beaten a strong field, including George H.W. Bush, John Connally, Howard Baker and Bob Dole. Where is the honor in dispatching avowed socialist Bernie Sanders and three hapless also-rans?
Clintonista efforts to dissuade Mr. Biden show how seriously they took him. How relieved they must be that he didn’t get in. But Mrs. Clinton performs worst when she thinks she’s on Easy Street. That is when her sense of entitlement takes over. She becomes lethargic and mechanical, prone to mistakes, and acts as if rules don’t apply to her. See her 2008 bid.
Second, although Mrs. Clinton survived her confrontation with the Benghazi Committee, she cannot escape the mess that lawmakers uncovered: the private email server she used while secretary of state. The FBI is investigating her potential mishandling of classified information. Regular dumps of embarrassing emails will continue to draw public attention to the scandal for months to come.
Mrs. Clinton is betting that she and her close aides will escape legal trouble, and that people will tire of reading her emails. The first assumption isn’t a sure thing. She or her top hands could be indicted. We could learn that foreign enemies compromised her server. As for the second, people may grow weary of the story, but it has inflicted deep, permanent damage. Many Americans have concluded that Mrs. Clinton probably broke the law and then lied about it.
Her testimony last week confirmed her tenuous relationship with the truth. Mrs. Clinton told the nation on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, that the Benghazi attack was “a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” But the next morning she told the Egyptian prime minister that the assault “had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack—not a protest.” In other words, she knowingly misled Americans two months ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
The hearings emphasized how Mrs. Clinton allowed Patrick F. Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, to repeatedly refuse requests from Ambassador Christopher Stevens for enhanced security. When those decisions turned fatal, she did not hold Mr. Kennedy—who still has his job—responsible.
Mrs. Clinton’s testimony also showed that while she pressed the Obama administration to intervene in Libya and depose Moammar Gadhafi, she had no plan to keep the country from devolving into a recruiting and training ground for Islamic terrorists, and then stood by as it slid into chaos. A Republican opponent can employ these facts to make the case that she was dishonest and incompetent as secretary of state.
Third, while Mrs. Clinton largely repeated her stump speech at Saturday’s Democratic Party dinner in Iowa, Mr. Sanders tossed his out. He attacked Mrs. Clinton by implication if not by name, pointing to her flip-flops on the Iraq war, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mr. Sanders homed in on Hillary’s principal weaknesses: her reputation for being unprincipled and hyperambitious, and the increasing perception of her as dishonest and untrustworthy.
If Mrs. Clinton was encouraged by her string of good luck last week, then she was focused on short-term gains. She remains a weak candidate, perhaps even weaker than before. The question for Republicans is whether they will nominate someone ready and able to exploit her flaws.
A version of this article appeared October 29, 2015, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Government Shutdown As Self-Promotion and online at WSJ.com.