With the drip, drip, drip of the many conflicts of interest which enrich the Clinton family and bedevil Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, one refrain remains constant among the liberal punditry: “These stories are not hurting Hillary’s support among Democrats.”
Even if the claim were true — which appears increasingly dubious — what does persistently strong support for Mrs. Clinton in the face of endless stories of the Clinton Foundation accepting money from foreign countries that had important business before Hillary’s State Department say about Democratic voters?
A Washington Post poll released this week shows 52 percent of Americans saying Hillary is not “honest and trustworthy”; only 41 percent think she is.
A Fox News poll taken at the same time finds 61 percent of registered voters believing it is likely that “the Clintons were selling influence to foreign contributors who made donations to the Clinton Foundation.” Yet only 31 percent of Democrats say they are “concerned about allegations of Hillary Clinton’s dishonesty and unethical behavior.”
(Interestingly, black voters are much more concerned than white voters, and younger voters — perhaps not yet jaded by years of exposure to politicians — are more concerned than older voters. Given the importance to Hillary’s election prospects of turning out blacks and millennials in swing states, this internal data is worth noting.)
In any case, a substantial number of Democrats are, for now, willing to support a candidate whom they believe to be dishonest. A few possible explanations come to mind:
They care much more about their team than anything else.
They hate Republicans so much that it doesn’t matter what their candidate does.
They want to vote for a woman no matter what.
They’re ignorant of the news (which Democratic politicians and operatives know and take advantage of).
It’s probably a combination of all of these.
But when it comes to actually casting a ballot, how many Democrats — and independent voters, who Hillary supporters also say are unmoved by the barrage of stories about Clinton shenanigans — will vote for a person they don’t consider to be honest and trustworthy?
The question is not as easy as it sounds, because other poll questions are not as negative for Mrs. Clinton: A slight plurality continue to believe she “understands the problems of people like you” and she is still viewed as a strong leader.
This despite a majority believing that the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising and Hillary’s handling of the Benghazi incident are “legitimate issues in next year’s presidential election” and a plurality feeling that way about her using a “personal” email account while serving as secretary of state.
Despite the heel-clicking hopefulness of Democratic spin-meisters, the drip, drip, drip of stories about the Clintons living by their own set of rules — which is a polite way of saying breaking the real rules — is taking a toll on Hillary’s popularity.
It is true that Hillary remains the prohibitive favorite to garner the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination but that’s against the weakest Democratic field in memory. After all, the second-place candidate is a self-avowed socialist (Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont) and in third place is a man whom many Americans view as a walking gaffe machine and, as if that’s not enough, is not even likely to become a candidate (Vice President Joe Biden). After that is someone named Lincoln O’Malley, I think. Anyway, it’s hardly a deep bench.
Clinton apologists focus on Mrs. Clinton’s nearly-50-point lead over the party’s dead-candidates-walking in order to distract from the fact that her overall favorability now trails her unfavorability, 45 percent to 49 percent. Hillary has only had an unfavorable rating above 49 percent once in the 23 years since the public had the misfortune to make her acquaintance in 1992 — and even that was likely an outlier as it came between two much better poll results. Among those with strong opinions about Hillary, the news is even worse for her: far fewer people have a strongly favorable view of her than a strongly unfavorable view, 24 percent to 39 percent.
You’ll hear Hillary drones chime in that her net favorability is better than that of almost every Republican candidate (other than Marco Rubio). But while few candidates in recent American history are as well-known as Mrs. Clinton the GOP field have barely begin to introduce themselves to America.
Only six percent of poll respondents offer no opinion about Clinton whereas between about 30 percent and 50 percent have not yet made up their minds about most of the Republicans. (They wisely make an exception for Donald Trump who earns an incredible 76 percent unfavorable rating with only 10 percent having no opinion of the man.)
Hillary’s refusal to answer questions from reporters — she has answered questions for about five minutes in the past 45 days — is both a necessary strategy for a candidate so mired in scandal and rather like someone standing in newly poured concrete and watching it harden around her feet because stepping outside of that pyrrhic protection is even riskier. But when your safer strategy is to duck and hide, that’s hardly a position of strength. As my friend Craig Silverman puts it, any good defense attorney reminds his client of her right to remain silent. But then that person is on defense.
Politico’s Jack Shafer, offering Hillary Clinton the glass-half-full version of the story, argues that today’s polls give little insight into what will actually happen in an election 17 months away and that “it’s hard to imagine a favorability-ratings veteran like Hillary Clinton panicking at this week’s or next week’s numbers.” You just keep telling yourself that, Jack. While any one early poll may not mean a lot, as we traders say, the trend is your friend (at least, in this case for the GOP).
And Washington Post reporters may try to varnish the Clinton Foundation’s outrageous misleading of the IRS, the Obama administration, and the American public with a hagiographic story including lines such as “Today, the Clinton Foundation is unlike anything else in the history of the nation and, perhaps, the world: It is a global philanthropic empire run by a former U.S. president and closely affiliated with a potential future president, with the audacious goal of solving some of the world’s most vexing problems by bringing together the wealthiest, glitziest and most powerful people from every part of the planet.” Apparently Post reporters are among the many hoping to get a job with the Clinton Foundation.
As cynical as an avid political spectator might be today about hyper-partisanship, about voters caring more for their “team” or for a “historic” candidate (and not deterred by how badly the current historic presidency is working out), I give the American electorate, including Democrats, slightly more credit. I can’t imagine — or maybe I just don’t want to imagine — that a majority of voters will actually cast a vote for someone they believe to be dishonest, no matter what positive traits they may place on the other side of the scale.
In an age when people look to politicians to understand and care about them — a wholly inappropriate and un-American approach to government — demonstrating at least a modest connection to the problems the rest of us face is one of the most important things a candidate can do. It’s an absolute necessity for a Democrat to turn out moderate voters of any political affiliation or no affiliation at all.
A task for Republicans, then, is to use Hillary’s untrustworthiness to weaken the stubborn perception that she understands or cares about ordinary people. After all, the framing of Mitt Romney by Democrats as a man wholly out of touch with regular people cost him the election against an extremely vulnerable incumbent president.
Just as a modest stream can over time create very deep canyons, the drip, drip, drip of news about the Clintons skirting ethics rules, tax disclosure laws, and their own assurances to the president Hillary recently served, must inevitably erode her already shaky foundation, even among Democrats.