Though not dominating the news the way the rise of Donald Trump has, looking a few stories down will reveal that Jeb Bush isn’t the only expected presidential nominee who’s getting serious problems. Despite beginning the year in first place for the Dem nomination by over forty points nationally and consistently beating all opponents in trial heats, often handily, Hillary Clinton has seen her comfort zone change dramatically as 2015 has gone on. A recent CNN/ORC poll and the recent statewide polls in Iowa and New Hampshire reveal that:
- Hillary is in virtual ties with both Jeb and Trump (by contrast, Joe Biden has the overpowering leads Hillary once enjoyed).
- Joe Biden is surging despite not having even declared… yet.
- Bernie Sanders is tied in Iowa and winning New Hampshire in a landslide!
- Hillary’s lead over Sanders has decreased by division tables.
Some say that none of this really matters. Hillary’s IA/NH problem is a matter of Sanders popularity with young, scholarly, fun-loving, progressive Democrats (once known as hippies). Beyond those states, Hillary will take over again as her overwhelming edge with blue collar, black and Hispanic Dems comes into play. That’s the theory, anyway.
But there’s two big problems with this. In the first place, Joe Biden is on record condemning the Confederate Flag as far back as 2007 and will most likely be running with the first black President’s blessing. Those kinds of things could very well give Hillary a rival for non-white voters. Second, the early contests tend to boost the winners and hurt the losers. Just ask Rudy Giuliani. National favorite among Republican contenders throughout 2007, he struggled nevertheless in the first few states. So he took the hits and focused on Florida. This strategy was good for zero states.
Also note how badly Hillary’s general election prospects have been damaged. That threatens even her standing with the party leadership.
So, yes, I’m believing that this is a real race now. The question is how the once-invincible Hillary Clinton became vulnerable. Here are the popular explanations.
It’s the email scandal, stupid! The preferred explanation of the right, this requires no explanation. Hillary deleted hundreds of emails. They may have been classified and may not have been. Because of how suspicious this looked (and the fact that Hillary was so slow to respond to the allegations, more on that later), her favorability ratings have tanked. Still, her ratings remain strong among Democrats, although less so than in the past. That is counteractive evidence.
I may as well state my position: I don’t know. Maybe there’s something to this. But we need real evidence. Of course, if they could prove it, Hillary would be done as a candidate.
It’s Hillary not being progressive. Hillary isn’t really the ideological heretic her opponents on the left say she is. After all, she has talked about income inequality and the advisability of corporate regulation. But the fact is that she has acted a tad too much like the race is hers to lose to the point where she avoids issues as much as possible. During the Trans-Pacific Partnership debate, for instance, it took a lot of prodding for her to say anything that hinted a position. That’s the idea, anyway.
The problem is that the biggest progressive rebellion against Democratic candidates lately is Black Lives Matter shutting down Bernie Sanders’ speeches. And believe me, there’s no comparing bitching on the Internet to that. So I don’t think that Hillary’s problem is just the base’s problems with her, either.
It’s anti-monarchism. People want fresh meat in the White House, or so some say. That would not be Hillary. Or Jeb, for that matter. But considering the longstanding popularity of the Clinton presidency, I am fairly skeptical of this.
It’s about populist anger. Partially connected to the last explanation, this one says that people have lost confidence in the status quo. This may be the most logical theory of these four. After all, polls have shown a majority of Americans believe this country to be on “the wrong track” for a full decade now. Maybe things are coming to a head.
All four theories have varying degrees of validity, but I think that something is missing. Something vital that, since Hillary is such a prominent figure, I’ve only seen one or two pundits touch on.
Hillary just isn’t a very good campaigner. I’m not even talking about how she’s not the most charismatic woman ever. No, she’s just not good at this running for office thing. How many have said that her blunders in 2008 pissed away another sure thing? What about how radioactively polarizing she was from 1993-1995 when her image was that of a co-President? Her later hands-off approach can be judged a consequence of the 1994 Republican Revolution, which many believed that she had caused.
The only elections she has ever won were to the U.S. Senate. And let’s face it, getting elected in the third most progressive state (New York) was no contest.
What’s her problem? For starters, she dislikes the press for how it jumped on every 1990s Clinton scandal, no matter how groundless (Whitewater, Vince Foster, etc.) and keeps her dealings with the media to an absolute minimum. This is why it took her so long to offer any response to the email controversy. Needless to say, this reaction was understandable but counterproductive.
The other thing is that she has a speaking style people just don’t like. Whether people find her to be “loud” or just feel threatened by how much she comes off as an assertive woman of action, she puts people off. She just does.
So the harsh truth is that Hillary seems to be bad at running for President. Combined with all the above mentioned problems, it’s really no wonder that the outcome of the race for the nomination, let alone the general election, all of a sudden is up for discussion.