Hillary’s Problems are Deeper than Scandal

CNN released a poll this week showing Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings at their lowest level in 12 years. Even more troubling for Democrats are dramatic swings in voter attitudes about Clinton’s key characteristics and attributes.

Since 2007, voters who believe she “cares about people like you” dropped 21 points (+16 to -5), while those who believe she is “honest and trustworthy” showed a 20 point swing (+5 to -15). In the past year alone voters who say she “inspires confidence” dropped 17 points (+16 to -1).

Some on the right are arguing this means Hillary’s scandals (i.e. her efforts to hide her official emails and handling of Benghazi) are taking a toll on her popularity. This is certainly part of the story but the problem not just for Clinton’s campaign, but the Democratic Party, runs much deeper.

One of the rules of political communication is that when the news is bad you change the subject, preferably to something positive and uplifting. The deeper problem for Democrats and the Clinton campaign is that she has nothing to pivot to.

The 2016 field itself is a reflection of the intellectual health and vitality of each party. While the Democrats are going through a coronation the Republicans are engaged in a real competition.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton speaks during a press conference in March over her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.

Modern conservatives are debating serious ideas and practical problems (how to reform the tax code, replace ObamaCare, save Social Security disability, etc.) while the left isn’t doing much of anything. On the right we have intellectual giants like the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Conservative Reform Network’s “Room to Grow” effort, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks and his emphasis on human flourishing, the Heritage Foundation and its works work to counter crony capitalism, the libertarian-leaning push for criminal justice reform and more. On one level these giants are engaged in healthy competition but they’re also standing on each other’s shoulders more than they realize. The Republican presidential field is a reflection of these factions and is a demonstration of conservatism’s vibrancy, creativity, diversity and even tolerance.

This week’s debate in the Senate about balancing civil liberties and national security in the USA Freedom Act (the successor to the post 9/11 Patriot Act) also reflected the constructive creative tensions on the right. During the debate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered several amendments to, in his view, strengthen the USA Freedom Act. McConnell lost each amendment but his willingness to present his case and lose was a welcome departure from the tenure of former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who loved to talk tough but was terrified of a fair fight. McConnell’s willingness to litigate these questions in the open was a demonstration of strength rather than weakness.

Democrats, on the other hand, keep rehashing the same failed policies of the past.

Again, there’s no big idea or animating principle for Clinton to pivot to. 

“The deeper problem for Democrats and the Clinton campaign is that she has nothing to pivot to.”

The left keeps re-releasing “Room to Grow Government” but without the new paper or gathering of experts. On jobs and the economy, it’s class warfare. On foreign policy, it’s Bush-bashing and neo-appeasement. On health care, the correction to ObamaCare is HillaryCare, the idea that sparked the 1994 Republican Revolution. On the coming entitlement crash, it’s higher taxes and more demagoguery.

The alternatives to Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee in 2016 also hardly reflect a party on fire intellectually. Leading contenders include Vermont-independent- socialist-Senator-who-caucuses-with-Democrats Bernie Sanders and former governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley who, with his new shirtless photos, has established himself as the Vladimir Putin of the American left, a liberal strongman who hopes to seduce the electorate with state power.  

Democrats who believe Republicans are obsessing over a new round of fake Clinton scandals are missing the point about the nature of Hillary Clinton’s scandals and the challenges facing the Democratic Party.

Hillary’s scandals themselves are arguably worse – or at least more damaging politically – than Bill’s because they immediately connect with the average voter. Whereas many voters dismissed the Lewinsky scandal as mere indiscretion, and Whitewater as an obtuse “land deal,” Hillary’s scandals are of a different magnitude.

omalley putin

Is Martin O’Malley seeking to emulate Putin’s ploy of masculinity? (Photo: Washington Examiner)

Her use of a private email account and then her decision to wipe her server is an obvious effort to avoid accountability, which is unforgivable in the transparency age. Regarding Benghazi, no explanation can change the fact that U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three others died on her watch as Secretary of State, even after she received clear warnings about security threats.

Still, even though these scandals are very real (“show me the server” is a potent refrain) Republicans are wisely not going overboard in highlighting them. In the 1990’s, Republicans learned that while scandals can lose elections they typically don’t win elections. Today, none of the Republican candidates seems intent on riding the magic carpet of scandal to victory. They’re too excited to tell the country what they are for.

Few in the media, of course, are willing to give the Republican field much credit. Gloria Berger at CNN calls the coming fight the “Hunger Games – without the fun.” Our founders would have a different description. They’d call it democracy and a grappling of ideas that just might produce the best policies for the country. 

Plus, the Democrats in 2016 have their own pop culture corollary. They’re like the characters on the TV show Lost. They’re goners – or in a different reality – and they don’t even know it.

John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.