Hillary Clinton’s Inevitable Popularity Crash

The potential presidential candidate’s numbers have been artificially high and are due for a painful correction.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 10: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries conference on April 10, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clinton is continuing on a speaking tour this week with the stop at the recycling industry trade conference.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
June 11, 2014, 8:47 a.m.

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.

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