Before House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking defeat, the biggest story of the week was Hillary Clinton’s stumble out of the gate of her book tour, with a comment that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House and a clarification to a factual error in the memoir.
On Wednesday, a new Gallup Poll showed that her favorability rating had dropped to its lowest level since 2008, the year she lost her last presidential run.
The hard truth is that that things will only get worse for the former secretary of State before they get better, even if she and her team do everything perfectly.
Clinton’s numbers have been artificially high since she’s been out of partisan politics and are due for a correction as she wades back into the mudslinging of the daily news cycle and Republicans head to their battle stations.
As Jonathan Chait notes, Clinton as secretary of State and then a private citizen has been hugely popular for the same reason: “First ladies are almost always popular (the only recent exception being Clinton herself, a problem she solved by removing herself from the partisan spotlight), and it’s why even hated former presidents like Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush recover their popularity” when they leave office.
From the moment President Obama selected Clinton as his first secretary of State, and thus elevated her above the partisan fray, old Republican foes warmed to her, praising the choice and even using her to attack Obama. Clinton’s popularity peaked in early 2011, just after Republicans took control of the House and initiated the first debt-ceiling standoff, and then again as Clinton was stepping down and leaving government altogether.
But staying out of politics is obviously not something Clinton can do as she gets back into politics, so her numbers are bound to fall no matter how well she plays her cards before they settle at a more natural point.
Republicans have already stepped up their attacks in recent weeks, and Clinton has started weighing in on the political fights du jour, such as when she said in Chicago on Wednesday morning that Cantor lost because his tea-party opponent “basically ran against immigrants.”
Just because the correction is inevitable doesn’t mean it won’t be painful. Clinton will have to endure rounds of media speculation, stoked by Republicans, that the American people are rejecting her, or that she’s mortally wounded herself with a number of missteps. “The more she reminds people [of herself], the more she will drop,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted in response to today’s Gallup Poll.
Her allies have long feared that the press will “turn on” Clinton, and the winds indeed seemed to shift a bit on the first day of her media blitz, as rosy stories about, say, her guilty pleasure (chocolate), gave way to more incredulous dispatches from her meticulously controlled campaign-like event and hard-nosed analysis about her gaffes.
As things get even worse, Clinton may ask herself if another run is really worth it.