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Where does Hillary Clinton stand? Don't ask her.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at an organizational rally at the Iowa City Public Library on July 7, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at an organizational rally at the Iowa City Public Library on July 7, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa.
David Greedy/Getty Images

Toward the end of the first national television interview of her campaign Tuesday, Hillary Clinton was asked to name the woman she would most like to see on the $10 bill.

Clinton, who has as good a grasp as anyone of the history of pioneering women in America, hemmed and hawed.

"I’m very torn about it," she told CNN's Brianna Keilar. "I want a woman on the bill. ... It might be easier to change the $20 than it is to change the $10." She fumbled around a bit more but never picked a side — on either the denomination or which woman's face should be on it. The question wasn't a hardball. But Clinton dodged like she'd been given Sophie's choice.

Whom Clinton wants to replace Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson is irrelevant to whether she should be president. But her hesitance to stake out a position on anything that might be remotely controversial feeds voters' perception that she's not honest and trustworthy. And why shouldn't it?

Whether questions were on policy or politics, substance or scandal, Clinton refused time and again to give a straight answer.

Would she raise taxes, like Bernie Sanders has said he would?

"I’m going to put out my policies and I’m going to let other people speak to their policies," she said.

What was her thought process in setting up an email system in which she kept control of her government communications on a personal account tied to a personal server?

"Everything I did was permitted," she said. "I turned over everything I was obligated to turn over, and then I moved on." Of course, voters have to take her word on that — she was the arbiter of which of her emails went to the State Department archive and which were wiped from her server.

Earlier in the interview, Keilar asked Clinton if she could understand why nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they don't think she tells the truth. Clinton ducked that, too.

"I trust the American voter 100 percent," she said, after attributing the perception to Republicans attacking her and her husband. "I have a lot of confidence that the American people can sort it all out."

If Clinton wants to understand why so few Americans think she's honest, she should watch clips of Tuesday's interview over and over again.

But didn't she go after Jeb Bush and Donald Trump?

Clinton answered two questions directly: what she thought of Donald Trump's comment that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug smugglers and what she thought of San Francisco authorities not enforcing immigration laws in light of the case of a murder suspect who had been deported five times.

Clinton said she was "disappointed" in The Donald, who contributed money to her Senate campaign and her husband's foundation. Then she turned it into an attack on the field of Republican candidates, saying they are "all in the same general area on immigration."

It was a deft political maneuver, but not nearly as adroit as what would come next. Pushed on whether that applied to Jeb Bush, who is more moderate than many of his Republican counterparts on immigration but has danced around on whether undocumented workers should have a path to citizenship, Clinton struck.

"He doesn’t believe in a path to citizenship," she said. "If he did at one time, he no longer does."

Democrats almost universally approve of a path to citizenship as part of a comprehensive immigration reform plan, and, depending on the poll, a majority or a plurality of Americans agree. Clinton neatly grouped Bush with Trump and the rest of the GOP field.

The other position she took wasn't terribly hard to stake out, either. San Francisco police reportedly had ignored a request from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement not to release Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, now a suspect in a murder investigation, after drug charges against him were dropped in April. San Francisco is known as a "sanctuary city" where local officials don't enforce immigration.

"I think the city made a mistake not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported," she said. "I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores the strong evidence that should be acted on. ... This man already had been deported five times, and should have been deported at the request of the federal government."

Flashback to Clinton fatigue

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the different standards reporters use in covering Clinton. One of them is the assumption that she's acting in bad faith. Her interview Tuesday provides a case study in why much of the media — and much of the public — treats her with wariness.

The big swing she took was a partisan roundhouse against the Republican field on immigration, and she nicked the GOP for driving an investigation into her email practices at the State Department. But on most questions of substance — like her tax plan — and even on her preference for which woman should be honored on legal tender, Clinton did everything she could to avoid taking any position at all.

The mix of stark partisanship with slippery policy is familiar to anyone who watched the Clinton White House or Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. Not only is it exhausting, but it's a reminder that it's hard to inspire voters when you don't seem to trust them enough to tell them what you really think.

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