Hillary Clinton has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks. First it was the rogue personal email server, then it was questions about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, then it was a deep dive into the finances of the Foundation, which led to a slew of questions ranging from whether Clinton’s decision-making as Secretary of State was compromised, to whether the Foundation was purposefully shielding tax records, to the role of certain questionable figures, like Sidney Blumenthal.
It’s been a nonstop avalanche of questions, to which Clinton has provided very few answers (she’s taken questions from reporters for just 5 minutes in the last 45 days). Presumably she has an agenda, but nobody would know it since she’s unwilling to talk to the press for fear of having to explain her family’s potentially shady dealings. Unfortunately for Clinton, her “duck and cover” strategy is about as effective in the face of a political bombshell as it was a useful form of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion during the Cold War.
The constant barrage is finally beginning to take its toll on Clinton’s poll numbers. A Washington Post poll released this week shows that 52 percent of Americans say Clinton is not “honest and trustworthy,” while only 41 percent believe she is. The poll also finds that the percentage of people who view Clinton unfavorably (49 percent) now exceeds the number of people who view her favorably (45 percent).
A CNN poll also found that more people now have an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton than at any time since 2001. That result isn’t a surprise considering the poll also found that the number of people who say she is not honest shot up 8 percent in the last two months, while the number of people who feel Clinton cares about people like them fell 6 percent since last year.
Finally, a Fox News poll finds that 61 percent of voters believe it is likely that “the Clintons were selling influence to foreign contributors who made donations to the Clinton Foundation.”
The sagging numbers are beginning to weigh on Democrats, who are quickly realizing they may have placed all their eggs in the wrong political basket. A POLITICO survey of influential activists and officials from early primary states finds a growing concern about Hillary’s past and its impact on her future as a candidate.
“Twenty-plus Republicans beating her up, Elizabeth Warren talking about the working man issues that terrify her, a couple of candidates like Bernie [Sanders] and Martin [O’Malley] to fill in her policy blanks, and a media that feels stiffed by her lack of access, so all we can focus on is emails and the notorious Clinton Foundation and newly acquired wealth that suggests, at a minimum, the appearance of impropriety,” one New Hampshire Democrat told POLITICO. “Frankly, if Hillary could step back and look at herself she would rate herself unfavorably as well.”
Democrats are right to be concerned. Unlike many of the Republicans in the field, who will have an opportunity over the coming months to introduce themselves to the American public, Clinton is already well known to voters. That means she likely has nowhere to go but down. As Megan McCardle writes for Bloomberg View:
[Clinton’s frontrunner status] seemed dandy as long as she was easily trouncing Republicans in polls. But those polls were always going to narrow, because the early polls were basically measuring whether people recognized the candidate’s name, not whether they were going to vote for her more than a year hence. As the GOP race sorts out, and the front-runners achieve more public awareness, you’re going to see our highly partisan electorate lock into much narrower margins.
Moreover, Clinton will have less room to improve her margins than whoever the Republican is. The Clintons have been around for a long time, which is a help in many ways — great name recognition, a beloved politician who can campaign for her, the ability to promise that the boom times under her husband will come back if only we give her our vote. But it also means that the public’s ideas about Clinton are pretty well fixed. A scandal can drive them down, but they are not going to suddenly soar as the public finds her surprisingly more likable than they expected.
It may not be time for Democrats to panic quite yet. After all, if there is one trait that defines the Clintons, it is durable. But at this point they have to be concerned that the candidate they’re lining up behind may be leading them off a cliff.