It almost seems quaint now, but not long ago, a matter of days really, Hillary Clinton wasn’t just the odds on favorite to win the Democrat primary, she was the putative nominee. The next twelve months were supposed to be a formality, an opportunity for Clinton to shake off the rust, built a stockpile of cash and snipe at GOP challengers from a position of strength.
None of that has happened. Instead, her candidacy has been rocked by instability from the start. She’s had to deal with numerous scandals, each one made worse by her inability to explain her behavior and her seeming unwillingness to simply level with voters.
The wheels really came off of her campaign last week when the situation surrounding Clinton’s private email server went from ethically dubious behavior to potentially criminal conduct after some digging by the intelligence community. The inspector general of the nation’s intelligence agencies, did some digging and found that a number of Clinton’s emails contained classified, and even top secret, information. The IG noted that “there are potentially hundreds of classified emails within the approximately 30,000 provided by former Secretary Clinton.”
The result has been a stunning fall in nearly all of her poll numbers, from the percentage of people who say they trust her to the number who say they view her favorably. To put it in historical perspective, Clinton’s favorability ratings are the worst they’ve ever been, and that extends to her husband’s time in the White House.
The plummeting polls, in turn, have created a vacuum that not only other Democrats, but Republicans, have filled. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, is surging, even polling ahead of Clinton in key states like New Hampshire. Joe Biden is looming on the sidelines, floating trial balloons, to see how much support he can gather from party elites. And key Republican challengers are all polling ahead of Clinton in states like Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire.
With a potential criminal indictment looming over their one-time champion, Democrats understandably began to panic. As is their wont, the Clinton campaign has handled the brewing criticism in the worst way possible. Kimberly Strassel writes for the Wall Street Journal:
It’s never a good sign when your party’s putative nominee feels compelled to send out an everyone-remain-calm memo 15 full months before an election. Campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri’s reassurance to supporters was classic Clinton—the perfect combo of airy dismissal (Server? FBI? It means nothing!), misdirection (this whole “classified” thing is really “complicated”), table-turning (Republicans hide things too, you know), and attack (this is just a “partisan witch-hunt”). Still, you don’t send out 700-word explanatories unless party leaders and donors are lighting you up with panic calls.
“Winning campaigns have a plan and stick to it, in good times and bad. President Obama endured significant pressure in 2007 to abandon Iowa and ultimately prevailed,” campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in the memo, according to the document published by Vox on Wednesday.
The problem is that the memo displays no plan. Instead, it lays out a series of talking points about things they’ve already accomplished. According to the Mook, Clinton has “delivered a clear message,” “raised more primary money in her first quarter than any other candidate in history,” “retained many of the nation’s most talented analysts, software engineers and digital strategists,” and “organized and mobilized more volunteers.” But the issue isn’t what Hillary has done, (after all, her numbers are upside down in nearly every poll despite what she’s done) it’s what she’s capable of doing in the future given the hole she’s dug for herself.
That’s what has Democrats worried and that’s what her campaign has absolutely no answer for. Instead, the memo attempts to soften her supporters concern by bashing her would-be Republican rivals, taking paints to argue that the GOP brand is “damaged” and that the party is “out of date and out of touch.”
Could Clinton’s team be so blissfully unaware that those critiques are more applicable to their own candidate than anyone in the Republican field? At this point Clinton is the very definition of a “damaged brand,” and her inability to deal with that fact, or engage the criticism head-on with sincerity and honesty shows just how out of touch she is.
If this is the best that Clinton can do to provide a dose of encouragement to a flagging liberal base, then Democrats have more reason to fear than we thought.