When the Clinton Scandals Boil Away

Trust is a bitter residue for the Democratic front-runner, even as voters turn away from Benghazi and emails.

Hillary Clinton.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
Nov. 3, 2015, 11:19 a.m.

She bur­ied Benghazi. She de­leted the email scan­dal. Such are the hopes of Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s team after an NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al poll sug­gests that Amer­ic­ans are less in­clined to con­sider either is­sue crit­ic­al to their 2016 vote.

So is Clin­ton out the woods? No—not if voters still want to trust their pres­id­ent.

First, the good news: In the poll re­leased Tues­day, Clin­ton’s lead over in­sur­gent so­cial­ist Bernie Sanders has widened to a two-to-one mar­gin among Demo­crats. More than 80 per­cent of Demo­crat­ic voters be­lieve the former sec­ret­ary of State is the most likely to win their party’s nom­in­a­tion.

The res­ults con­firm an­ec­dot­al evid­ence that Demo­crats are eager to for­give Clin­ton’s lapses in judg­ment and hon­esty con­cern­ing both the 2012 Libya raid and the un­au­thor­ized use of a secret email sys­tem while serving as sec­ret­ary of State.

Her 11-hour testi­mony be­fore a hy­per-par­tis­an con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­at­ing the Benghazi raid seems to have swung sen­ti­ments in Clin­ton’s fa­vor. Be­fore the hear­ing, 58 per­cent of Demo­crat­ic primary voters said they were sat­is­fied with Clin­ton’s re­sponse to the at­tacks. That num­ber is up 14 points, to 72 per­cent.

Among swing voters, the per­cent­age of those who say they aren’t sat­is­fied with Clin­ton’s re­sponse to the Benghazi con­tro­versy has been cut by more than half, from 84 per­cent to 40 per­cent.

After a first Demo­crat­ic de­bate, where Clin­ton per­formed well and Sanders gave her a pass on the email scan­dal, 48 per­cent of voters say the email is­sue isn’t im­port­ant to their vote, while 42 per­cent say it does shape their de­cision-mak­ing. Those num­bers are al­most flipped since mid-Oc­to­ber.

Clin­ton has taken re­spons­ib­il­ity for se­cur­ity lapses at the U.S. com­pound in Libya, but she hasn’t ex­plained her role in an ad­min­is­tra­tion-wide at­tempt to mis­lead Amer­ic­ans about the reas­on for the at­tacks. In the heat of Pres­id­ent Obama’s reelec­tion cam­paign, the White House ini­tially blamed the raid on an anti-Muslim video rather than a ter­ror­ist strike.

Con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­at­ors un­covered evid­ence that Clin­ton knew with­in hours that ter­ror­ists were be­hind the raid. Ac­cord­ing to the fath­er of a former Navy SEAL who died in the raid, Clin­ton stood be­fore his son’s coffin and privately told him the United States would ar­rest the film­maker re­spons­ible for the at­tack.

Clin­ton has apo­lo­gized for put­ting all her of­fi­cial email on a private serv­er but con­tin­ues to claim in­cor­rectly that the ac­tions had pre­ced­ent and were au­thor­ized. She vowed in March that no clas­si­fied ma­ter­i­al was ever on the serv­er, a claim proven false. She now tells voters none of the emails were marked clas­si­fied, which she must know is ir­rel­ev­ant; people are pro­sec­uted for mis­hand­ling un­marked U.S. secrets.

Fur­ther­more, Clin­ton in­sists that she vol­un­tar­ily turned over the email to the State De­part­ment, though in fact, she had kept the gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments secret un­til Con­gress dis­covered her stash. She in­sists she vol­un­tar­ily turned over the serv­er, fail­ing to men­tion the FBI’s strong de­sire to scour the stor­age unit as part of its on­go­ing in­vest­ig­a­tion of her ac­tions.

Be­cause of all this, and more, the Benghazi and email stor­ies could boil away, and there will re­main the bit­ter residue of a char­ac­ter is­sue likely to stick to Clin­ton throughout the cam­paign—and throughout her pres­id­ency, should she win.

People don’t trust her.

The NBC/WSJ poll re­veals that 53 per­cent of re­gistered voters give her poor marks for “be­ing hon­est and straight­for­ward,” while just 27 per­cent give her high marks.

Clin­ton and her team can take solace in the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial race, which GOP con­sult­ant Alex Cas­tel­lanos re­cently called a “dump­ster fire.” The NBC/WSJ poll shows polit­ic­al novices Don­ald Trump and Ben Car­son lap­ping the GOP field, with a ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­an voters call­ing Car­son their first or second choice.

“And while there’s still plenty of time for an es­tab­lish­ment GOP can­did­ate to beat Car­son or Trump,” reads the NBC ana­lys­is, “Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Peter Hart won­ders if the 2016 Re­pub­lic­an race is shap­ing up to re­semble 1964, when Barry Gold­wa­ter won the GOP nom­in­a­tion.”

“What if the cake is baked?” Hart asks. “This is not a status-quo elec­tion.”

The cake is baked on Clin­ton’s in­teg­rity. She must now pray for a flaky GOP nom­in­ee.

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