This has been the summer from hell for Hillary Clinton, as the once presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has seen her commanding lead dissolve under the onslaught of Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire and a raging controversy over her mishandling of official email during her four years as Secretary of State.
The State Department’s latest court-ordered dump Monday night of 7,121 pages of email messages that Clinton received or sent on a private email server while at State provided another unwelcomed reminder of ongoing FBI and congressional probes into the content of the email and whether Clinton unwittingly disclosed highly confidential or secret information by failing to use government email service.
So far, the State Department has released about a quarter of the 30,000 pages of emails that Clinton designated as work-related, with the remainder to be parceled out over the next six months. There was little in the latest batch of a truly revelatory nature.
Mostly, there were a few titillating or mildly interesting tidbits, including a stern warning from daughter Chelsea that international relief efforts in Haiti were a catastrophe, and a nasty note from long-time chum and outside adviser Sidney Blumenthal, who mocked House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as a big drinker who is “without any commitment to any principle,” as The New York Times reported.
The controversy over her handling of her emails – and what they say about her role in the lead up to and aftermath of the September 2012 terrorist attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador – will continue to play out to her detriment throughout the critical early months of 2016 as she competes for delegates in Iowa and New Hampshire. She is scheduled to testify once this fall, on Oct. 22, before a special House investigative panel investigating the Benghazi tragedy.
That will likely be a political circus, with Republicans spending a long day hammering her and Democrats doing what they can to defend her. The hearing will be fraught with danger for Clinton, who will be forced to answer scores of questions that are likely to stray far afield of the Benghazi incident.
Polls show that a substantial majority of Americans don’t trust Clinton and believe she has been lying about the emails and other aspects of her career. It hasn’t helped that until recently she has been flip and dismissive in responding to reporters’ questions -- denouncing the email probe as just the latest saga in a long Republican conspiracy to attack her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
More recently, she has been less defensive in discussing the controversy. During a political event in Iowa last week, for example, she said that her use of a private server “clearly wasn’t the best choice,” adding that “I should have used two e-mails – one personal, one for work – and I take responsibility for that decision.”
She also has tilted more of her policies toward the left wing of the party, including major initiatives on the environment, college tuition debt relief and sharply increasing capital-gains tax rates paid by the wealthiest earners on short-term investments.
Now there may be a small bright spot in Clinton’s otherwise dismal summer: A new survey by Morning Consult released yesterday suggests that Clinton “appears to have arrested her summer slump” among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters.
The national tracking poll conducted August 28 to 30 found Clinton leading the Democratic presidential pack with 52 percent of the vote – or 29 points ahead of Sanders, the self-styled socialist senator from Vermont who has drawn huge crowds with his attacks on Wall Street and the “billionaire class.”
Clinton – who squandered a big 43 percent point lead over the summer – still has problems with high negatives. Only 44 percent of the Democrats surveyed have a favorable view of her, compared with 52 percent who have an unfavorable view. But her favorables are better than those of Sanders by nine points
Clinton leads Sanders among self-described liberals by 52 percent to 31 percent, according to an analysis accompanying the survey. And Sanders is far less popular among moderate and conservative Democrats. Clinton also boasts much bigger leads among African American Democrats (49 percentage points) and Hispanic Democrats (31 percentage points), according to the analysis.
Finally, among all registered voters, Clinton leads all of her potential Republican rivals in hypothetical matchups. She narrowly leads Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, 43 percent to 42 percent, and is ahead of former Florida governor Jeb Bush by 43 percent to 41 percent
Clinton bests Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida by wider margins.
Overall, however, Clinton faces a steep climb to regain an unassailable lead in the Democratic presidential campaign, and much could change if Vice President Joseph Biden decides later this month to enter the race.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said that while Clinton’s email headaches will dog her throughout the campaign, “We’ve long since concluded she’d have to be indicted – or something of equivalent impact – for her to lose the nomination, and that evaluation doesn’t change if Biden jumps in.”
“Hillary Clinton has a long lead in money, organization, super-delegates, staffing and just about every other category you can think of,” Sabato said. “Iowa and New Hampshire may end up being her two worst states, but as we’ve learned over the years, those states no longer determine the nominee. They winnow, not crown.”