Hillary Clinton May Be Her Own Worst Enemy

Hillary Clinton's political and personal baggage is likely to be a bigger problem for her than whomever her Republican opponent ends up being.

Clinton, Gates, And Mullen Testify Before Senate Foreign Relations Cmte

Reacting in part to today’s latest revelations about donations to the Clinton Foundation from 2009 to 2013, Chris Cillizza argues that Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem going forward is likely to be Hillary Clinton herself:

The single biggest threat to Hillary Clinton’s chances of being elected president next November — more so than any one running against her in the Democratic primary or even her future Republican general election opponent — is a sense among the electorate that the bad of putting another Clinton in office outweighs the good.

What Clinton cannot have — if she wants to win — is lots of voters saying some variant of this: “I like her and I think she’d probably be a good president. But, I just don’t want to go through all of that stuff again.” Which is why today is a not-at-all-good day for Clinton’s presidential hopes.

(…)

In terms of raising the “I don’t know if I want to go through all of this again” sentiment among average people, this collection of stories is just terrible.  It reminds them — or, if it doesn’t remind them yet, it will — of all the things in the 1990s that they didn’t like and certainly don’t want to go through again. Obviously the top of the mind issue there is Monica Lewinsky but there’s Whitewater, the travel office, the Buddhist monks — and so and so forth.

“It’s the Clinton way: raking in millions from foreign governments behind closed doors while making promises about transparency that they never intended to keep,” said Carly Fiorina, one of the 20 (or so) people likely to run for president on the Republican side. “Have we had enough of a ruling political class that doles out favors to the wealthy and well connected few?”

Republicans would be wise to follow Fiorina’s example as they strategize the best way to effectively attack Clinton in the campaign to come.  While hitting her on her resume or readiness for the office is a loser with the American public, raising questions about her honesty is far more fertile soil.

In support of his argument, Cillizza points to a poll released today from Quinnipiac University (the same poll I referenced in the post earlier today about Marco Rubio):

More than six in ten (62 percent) of voters said Clinton has “strong leadership qualities.” In that same sample, however, less than four in ten (38 percent) said that Clinton was honest and trustworthy. A majority (54 percent) said she’s not honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents.

That’s a remarkable set of findings — and speaks to the divided mind the public has about the Clintons broadly and Hillary Clinton specifically.  There’s a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for. There’s also widespread distrust in her personally.  People admire her but don’t know if she’s honest.

And that is the central problem for Clinton with this series of stories today. It affirms for people that there is always some piece — or pieces — of baggage that come with electing the Clintons to anything.  It’s part of the deal.  You don’t get one without the other.

This has been an issue for Clinton from the beginning, of course. Even in 2008, there were many who wondered whether voters would really be eager to return to the Clinton Era given that such a return is just as likely to mean a return of the ethical questions and partisan warfare that marked the better part of the 1990s as it is to mean a return to an economy that was booming largely for reasons unrelated to President Clinton’s policies. Additionally, to put it bluntly, Hillary Clinton has never seemed to be able to project the same sense of, well, warmth, that her husband did when he was running for and serving as President, and that we’ve come to know in his years since leaving office. Unlike Bill, Hillary tends to come across as far more taciturn and far less empathetic than her husband, and this plays into much of the reason that Mrs. Clinton does not poll well on questions regarding honesty and trustworthiness. In addition to that, though, the history of the Clinton Administration itself, which Mrs. Clinton was heavily involved in from the beginning, includes many instances where the trustworthiness of the President, the First Lady, or those speaking on their behalf was questionable at best. Voters faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton and someone else in 2016 may have to decide just how eager they are to return to that era.

The other characteristic of American politics from the Clinton Era, of course, was the never ending stream of accusations and partisan attacks that were aimed at President and Mrs. Clinton from critics on the right virtually from the time he announced his candidacy for President. There were substantive political issues that were part of the attacks such as the Administration’s push for gun control bills in Congress and the First Lady’s aborted health care reform initiative, and of course once the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 there were frequent battles over the Federal budget and other issues that continued for several years until both the White House and Congress came to their sense and realized that they needed to work together to get anything done. In addition to those policy disputes, of course, the Clinton years also saw a wide variety of fringe accusations and conspiracy theories become part of the mainstream political discussion. To a large degree, of course, this was due to the rise of the Internet, talk radio, and cable news, but whatever the cause it was the beginning of a political culture that has only gotten worse as they years have gone on. Given how much frustration they’ve expressed with the way Washington has worked in recent years, one wonder how eager voters may be to return to the era that gave birth to today’s political culture.

 Just as Mrs. Clinton has baggage, of course, the Republican Party does as well. Both due to their party’s position on issues such as same-sex marriage and immigration and because of the gridlock that they have been responsible for during the Obama Administration, the public reputation of Republicans is quite low notwithstanding the outcome of the elections in 2010 and 2014. Additionally, the party has been hurt by things such as the inability of some of its politicians to keep quiet on an issue as seemingly radioactive as abortion and rape. Notwithstanding Clinton’s own problems, the GOP’s problems may be enough to give her an edge when the General Election rolls around. Whatever the outcome, though, it seems pretty clear that American voters are going to be faced with two rather unpalatable choices in 2016. If that’s the case, then you can expect a lot of them to just decide to stay home on Election Day.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Modulo Myself says:

    It reminds them — or, if it doesn’t remind them yet, it will — of all the things in the 1990s that they didn’t like and certainly don’t want to go through again.

    Who went ‘through’ any of this? Loyal democrats and committed Clinton haters, basically. For most people, the 90s were far better than the years that followed.

  2. David M says:

    The baggage might be relevant in a primary election, but I can’t see how it’s even worth mentioning in the context of a general election.

  3. Pinky says:

    Doug – Second-last paragraph, five sentences, four uses of the phrase “of course”. The first sentences in the paragraph above and the paragraph below both include the phrase. I’ve also noticed that in a lot of your articles, the first sentence after the block quote will be “Of course, this is unsurprising” or something close to that.

    We all have quirks in our writing styles, but this is something you really should watch. (Not trying to be a jerk here, just a free-range editor.)

  4. EddieInCA says:

    I think Clinton would welcome the comparisons from 1992-2000 to 2000-2016.

    I certainly would. All those “investigations” and “scandals” didn’t affect the booming economy and the shrinking of the debt, and it didn’t keep Bill Clinton from having a higher popularity than any other ex-president except JFK.

    In subtext, I’d be pitching “Bill’s Third Term.”

  5. Pete S says:

    the Clinton years also saw a wide variety of fringe accusations and conspiracy theories become part of the mainstream political discussion.

    Voting against Hilary Clinton because she and her family were the target of the above would be insane. That would be like suspending a kid at school who is getting bullied because you are tired of seeing them get beaten up.

    There may be perfectly valid reasons to vote against her, either in the primary or the general election. But the odds of any of those reasons coming up in an environment where the opposition party is putting so much focus on the conspiracy theories is about zero.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Nonsense. There is no more known quantity in public life than Hillary Clinton. Perceptions are baked in by this point. You can’t “define” a candidate who is already indelible.

  7. Tillman says:

    Off-topic, but this should be the campaign poster.

    The mottos:

    Hillary Clinton — Because This is an Oligarchy & I’m the Competent One Among Them”

    “Resign Yourself to Your Fate — Vote Hillary!

    “The Endless Ennui of Existence can Only Be Broken by a Radical Act of Freedom – Vote Clinton!…in a Desperate Bid to Clothe what is at best a pseudo-ironic conformist expression in The Glorious Imagery of Conscious Choice!
    ↑ This campaign would frame opponents as illusions delusions of our imagination brought on by the E³, with only Hillary Clinton being flesh and bone.

    @Pinky: Great. We were all being quiet about it, and then Pinky comes along and ruins it. Like everything else you touch, you communist digit! 🙂

    I presume lawyerly writing is incredibly boring and involves repetition, or using a template anyway. One writes how one’s taught by what one reads, really.

  8. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @Tillman:

    One writes how one’s taught by what one reads, really of course.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    This has been an issue for Clinton from the beginning, of course. Even in 2008, there were many who wondered whether voters would really be eager to return to the Clinton Era given that such a return is just as likely to mean a return of the ethical questions and partisan warfare that marked the better part of the 1990s as it is to mean a return to an economy that was booming largely for reasons unrelated to President Clinton’s policies.

    Three observations:
    (1) I think this – the Clinton baggage – has already been discounted.
    Everyone knows there was a ‘permanent’ 6 year investigation of extremely grave constitutional and possible heinous illegal conduct – such as Rose Law Office Billings, Whitehouse Travel Office, Whitewater Land Dealing, Vince Foster, etc – and nothing resulted from any of that. Until the IPO ran a sting on Bill’s sex life the permanent investigation yielded nothing.

    (2) Why is it that conservatives now claim that the booming economy on Bill Clinton’s watch is something he should get little credit for? Typically (historically, for better or for worse) presidents get the blame or the credit for economic performance during their presidencies. Now you’re saying that’s not the case?

    (3) Hillary, unlike Bill, is not good on the campaign trail – she’s probably average at best. Will all that “Clinton baggage” cause ANY Democrat to not vote for Hillary, or worse, to change allegiance and vote Republican? I sincerely doubt it. The issue for Democrats is to get their voters as motivated to vote as Republicans are. If they do, Hillary (if she’s the nominee) will win.

  10. edmondo says:

    @EddieInCA:

    In subtext, I’d be pitching “Bill’s Third Term.”

    Yes, by all means, let’s enact a few more one-sided trade deals (NAFTA) repeal a few more controls on Wall Street so they can crash the economy (Glass-Steagal) and maybe throw in another Defense of Marriage Act while we end “welfare as we know it” and have the president impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice.

    Bill’s Third Term indeed.

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @edmondo:

    Of course, the fact that all three of those things were Republican creations never gets mentioned.

    “Yea, we negotiated a sh*tty trade deal, passed stupid deregulation of the financial industry and put those darn gays in their place, but they’re Clinton’s fault – because he should have vetoed them.”

    Points for creativity, but no cigar.

  12. Pinky says:

    @Tillman: Some dude I don’t know gives me free articles, I’m gonna complain about them! It’s the internet way!

  13. CET says:

    Meh.

    There’s a non-trivial chance I’ll vote for someone other than Hillary, but does anyone (at least, anyone whose mind isn’t already made up) still care about all the drama from the 90’s anymore?

    I just remember a blur of ‘scandals’ most of which had no bearing on the country as a whole, and few of which had any real supporting evidence. If anything, I feel like I’ve been inoculated against new Clinton scandals. I just get a tired ‘been there, seen that’ feeling whenever I hear about the latest breathless outrage.

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @CET:

    There’s a non-trivial chance I’ll vote for someone other than Hillary, but does anyone (at least, anyone whose mind isn’t already made up) still care about all the drama from the 90’s anymore?

    Yes. I still love “Melrose Place.”

  15. Pinky says:

    @CET:

    I just get a tired ‘been there, seen that’ feeling…

    That’s the worst possible feeling for a new political campaign to inspire.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    That’s the worst possible feeling for a new political campaign attack against Hillary Clinton to inspire.

    Happy to be of help…

  17. Moosebreath says:

    @al-Ameda:

    “Why is it that conservatives now claim that the booming economy on Bill Clinton’s watch is something he should get little credit for?”

    Because he did it while raising taxes on rich people. Giving Bill Clinton credit for the economy’s performance means that the Republican religion of tax cuts for the rich, at all times and for any reason, is incorrect. And they react like all religious people do to evidence contrary to their religion.

  18. edmondo says:

    “Yea, we negotiated a sh*tty trade deal, passed stupid deregulation of the financial industry and put those darn gays in their place, but they’re Clinton’s fault – because he should have vetoed them.”

    Points for creativity, but no cigar.

    I’m pretty sure that the word “cigar” is banned from the Clinton household.

  19. Rick Almeida says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There is no more known quantity in public life than Hillary Clinton. Perceptions are baked in by this point. You can’t “define” a candidate who is already indelible.

    I think this is probably true for people 40 and up. Much less so for anyone under 35, I think.

  20. Pinky says:

    @An Interested Party: I’ve yet to read a clever “fixed it for you” comment. But my point would still stand even if it were solely the Republicans’ doing. An early sense of fatigue is not a campaign’s friend.

  21. de stijl says:

    @CET:

    If anything, I feel like I’ve been inoculated against new Clinton scandals.

    The Boy Who Cried Wolf is one of Aesop’s fables for a reason.

    @Rick Almeida:

    I think this is probably true for people 40 and up. Much less so for anyone under 35, I think.

    Clinton will need to address this for the younglings. But, it will also help to reinforce the paucity of actual scandal in all of the Arkansas Project “scandals” from the 90s. If she’s funny and snarky about it, it could be a net plus.

  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Here’s a convenient rundown of how a group of Russian investors pulled off two completely unrelated endeavors at the same time: giving several million dollars to Bill Clinton and the Clinton foundations, while also getting Hillary Clinton to sign off on a deal that left them in control of 20% of the United States uranium supply.

    On, and in a third completely unrelated development, the Clinton Foundation is having to re-file their tax returns for the past several years. It appears that they “overstated” and “understated” various donations from various sources.

    Cynics might say that donations from shady donors were credited to less-suspicious nations, groups, and individuals, such as, say, the aforementioned Russian investors’ gifts being credited to some other people who did not have huge business deals pending approval by Hillary Clinton, and use terms such as “money-laundering,” but that would be… premature.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @Tillman: I still think “Release the Kraken!” is the best….

  24. Scotty B says:

    I’ll vote for anyone other than this Malignant Cunt.

  25. Moosebreath says:

    As for the original topic, I am outsourcing my response to Charles Pierce:

    “You’re kidding. Wealthy interests might use their wealth to “build friendly relations” with politicians? In 2015? Has anyone told Anthony Kennedy? He might plotz.

    (This, by the way, is Clinton Rule No. 2 — what is business as usual for every politician since Cato is a work of dark magic when practiced by either Clinton.)”

  26. grumpy realist says:

    Well, if Hilary is going to implode, best she do so now while the Democratic primary can still recover.

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I’m not the type to say this, but I really think someone should delete Scotty R’s comment and ban his IP…

  28. An Interested Party says:

    I’ve yet to read a clever “fixed it for you” comment.

    Well, to be fair, that could also be said about most of your comments…at any rate, CET was talking about how so many invented outrages have been declared against the Clintons that most people discount them as hot air and that will certainly help Hillary’s campaign against Republican attacks…