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Sticking to 'New Year's resolution,' Clinton sidesteps Trump attacks

Five days into 2016, and Hillary Clinton is probably doing a better job of keeping her New Year’s resolution than most people.

Five days into 2016, and Hillary Clinton is probably doing a better job of keeping her New Year’s resolution than most people.

In her first national television interview of the year following a campaign stop Tuesday in Osage, Iowa, the Democratic presidential front-runner refused to respond to the more pointed barbs from her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, choosing instead to repeatedly stress a message of unity on issues ranging from gun control to international terrorism. The exclusive interview with Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's "Hardball," came one day after Clinton told voters in Cedar Rapids that her New Year’s resolution was to avoid any slugfests with the sharp-tongued real estate mogul.

So far, so good.

Asked whether Trump’s musings about her “stamina” were sexist, Clinton smiled wryly and replied: “I have a New Year’s resolution. I will not respond to his personal attacks.”

Matthews, anticipating her response, redirected. “I feel like a lawyer now. How do I rephrase?” he joked.

“Why would he go after your stamina, rather than Bill [Clinton’s] stamina, or George McGovern’s stamina, or anybody else’s except you’re a woman?” asked Matthews, noting that Trump is in fact older than Clinton.

Again, Clinton didn’t take the bait. “Why does he do whatever he does?” she said. “I can only tell you what I hear from people. And what I hear from people is really about their lives and their future.”

Rising above divisive rhetoric to solve the nation’s problems was a theme that ran throughout the interview, as Clinton seeks to fend off a challenge from her primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and remind voters that she stands the best chance of defeating whoever the Republicans nominate in a general election. Her message is clear: If the GOP wins the White House, the consequences will be grave.

Asked about the anti-Muslim attitudes that followed both ISIS-directed and ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and California, Clinton said she found remarks from Republican presidential candidates “deeply distressing.”

“We need to have a sense of unity and purpose in combating terrorism,” Clinton said. “What I’m hearing from the other side is not only offensive and shameful; it’s dangerous.”

On gun control -- another hot-button issue that has split the presidential field -- Clinton again stressed “what we can do together.”

“I do support comprehensive background checks, and to close the gun show loophole, and the online loophole, and what’s called the Charleston loophole, and to prevent people on the no-fly list from getting guns,” said Clinton. “What I am proposing is supported by a great majority of the American people and a significant majority of gun owners.”

Hours earlier that day, a tearful President Obama publicly directed federal agencies to expand background-checks on gun buyers and tighten enforcement of existing gun laws. Clinton said she was “delighted” with the actions.

Clinton again praised Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent directive to open all military jobs to women, including combat roles, though she agreed with conservatives that physical and mental standards must not be compromised.

“I am a huge supporter of women being able to break whatever glass ceilings are holding them back,” she said. But “physically, mentally, you have to be prepared, you have to be ready.”

As for her political style, Clinton described herself as a “progressive Democrat” who looks forward to forming relationships and finding common ground with her ideological opponents.

“Everybody has strengths that they bring to this position,” she said.

“Is schmoozing one of yours?” Matthews asked.

“Well, I think that I like it,” Clinton said.