Jon Stewart has spent the last six weeks making fun of the routine stops of Hillary Clinton’s book tour: the softball questions, the ritualized responses, the visit to an Arlington Costco. But by the time Clinton came to “The Daily Show” last night, for one of the last appearances on her Hard Choices publicity tour, Stewart had slipped out of his barbed-commentator mode and into his gentle interviewer persona. In the interview, which took up half the episode’s running time (you can watch the full video above), Stewart repeatedly returned to the same topic: Clinton’s refusal to declare her candidacy. “I think I speak for everybody when I say, no one cares [about the book], they just want to know if you’re running for President,” Stewart joked when she first sat down. And Clinton, with a practiced affability, responded with her usual tactic: laughter.
Clinton’s trademark belly laugh became a brief point of controversy during her last campaign, subject to sexist labeling—“cackle”— and accusations that it was calculated. Stewart himself devoted an entire “Daily Show” segment back in 2007 to her laughter, describing it as a robotic display by a politician “determined to showcase her humanity.” In the time since, Clinton has become more comfortable in television interviews, but her go-to response when asked whether she’s running for president—or any other question she can’t quite answer—is evasive laughter. But what can come off as slippery in a CNN interview seems natural on the “Daily Show” set. When Stewart pulled out a clipboard and offered to give her a career aptitude test, she gamely played along. He asked if she had a preferred shape for her office; "I think the world is so complicated, the fewer corners you can have the better,” Clinton replied. Responding to a question about her “dead broke” comments from a few weeks ago—“an inartful phrase,” in her words—she began to explain that she’s worried younger Americans won’t have the same opportunities she did. “You know what's awesome?” Stewart interrupted. “How easily you pivoted from that into income inequality in America. That says to me you're running for president.” The lighthearted banter had a rehearsed quality, of course, but each time she turned to the audience and laughed, she was able to show she’s in on the joke.