Don’t look now, but Hillary is peaking. People are going to get bored with the 2016 presidential hopeful, if they aren’t already. The firestorm over her Atlantic interview is a drop in the bucket. The book tour, the endless speeches, the gallons of ink spilled on her foreign policy credentials, Benghazi, her health, her Hamptons getaway, her whining about being “dead broke,” her foundation, former law cases, Monica’s reemergence, Chelsea’s pregnancy-- it’s all too much. Amazingly, there’s a good chance Hillary will blow it again.
Consider her approval ratings: 66 percent according to a Washington Post/ABC poll in December 2012 as she prepared to leave her post as Secretary of State. More recently? Falling to 54 percent in June, says Gallup, a six-year low.
The droop is not just among Republicans. At the end of June, Quinnipiac reports her standing with Democrats had tumbled to 58 percent, down 11 points from late May, just before the publication of her book Hard Choices. She is outpolled by both her husband and by her daughter; her lead over possible 2016 GOP rivals Rand Paul and Jeb Bush is melting faster than ice cream at the beach.
Some slide was inevitable. Secretaries of state normally are popular; they are viewed as above the political fray and engaged in the nation’s business. In Hillary’s case, it can’t help that she is one of the most overexposed persons on earth, maybe second to Kim Kardashian. When asked by an interviewer recently if she paid attention to the media’s frenetic coverage, she claimed “I try to keep up with it, but I can't possibly read it all. I would be doing nothing else."
Hillary ennui may account for the dismal showing of her memoir, for which she was paid $14 million and which was expected to be a blockbuster. With readers proposing the alternative title, “Boring Choices,” it sold only 161,000 copies in its first week, (compared to 438,000 for her earlier work, Living History) then skidded to 28,000 by week three and was pushed off the bestseller list by Ed Klein’s unflattering Blood Feud.
The inevitability of Hillary’s candidacy is boring. It’s all but certain that she’ll run, and that she will be the Democrat nominee. She’s a formidable fund-raiser and it’s “her turn.” But can she excite voters and win the election? Polling shows her well ahead of possible GOP rivals, but that’s to be expected. The election is still far away, and no Republican has emerged as the front-runner. Hillary, meanwhile, has time to scrub and polish her resume. Maybe too much time since she so easily gets herself in trouble.
Consider Clinton’s recent Atlantic interview. With 60 percent of Americans disapproving of the president’s handling of foreign affairs, Clinton blasts Obama’s policy mantra saying “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” In one fell swoop, Hillary has ripped off her “loyalist” cloak and revealed just how much of her schmoozing with Obama – for instance the cringe-inspiring interview with 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft - was complete humbug. Never rated highly for honesty, Hillary has just clobbered her “trustworthiness” readings.
As important, she has brought an early spotlight to her stint as Secretary of State, where she was party to numerous policy blunders. Hillary can’t have it both ways. She cannot claim to have played a significant role as Secretary of State in the Obama administration – conferring gravitas beyond that of being a former First Lady or a New York Senator – and at the same time wash her hands of the chaos that has resulted from our many goofs. She’s completely correct that the “Obama doctrine” is thin gruel, but she was the figurehead for that guiding principle for four long years; she’s complicit, like it or not.
Hillary has another problem. As she pulls away from Obama, asserting her hawkish credentials, she risks alienating her liberal base and souring Americans who remain wary of involvements overseas. Criticism of Obama’s hesitance to arm the rebels in Syria, her push for engagement in Libya, her endorsement of the surge in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan, and her past vote in favor of the Iraq war establishes her as a card-carrying interventionist.
In the Atlantic interview, Hillary sounds positively bellicose, a feminine John McCain. She describes herself as “hepped up” about jihadism (a welcome change from our somnolent Commander in Chief), gets excited about the U.S. “advancing the cause of freedom,” celebrates the “defeat” of the Soviet Union, sticks up for Israel’s right to defend itself and throws in the occasional “damn” just to emphasize her stars-and-stripes grit. While music to the ears of those frustrated by Obama’s lack of leadership, the Left will not be happy.
At the same time, critics will not forget that Hillary joined with Obama in refusing to support the Green Revolution in 2009 or that she authored the “reset” with Russia, wacky button and all, continuing to call it a success. They won’t ignore one of her first diplomatic responses – to the ouster of leftist president Mel Zelaya of Honduras – when she joined Venezuela despot Hugo Chavez and boss Obama in denouncing a “right-wing coup.” Hillary begrudgingly changed her tune on the revolt, earning enmity from liberals to this day.
All this scrutiny does not help Clinton’s standing. The convulsions in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq are still too raw. Hillary should have distanced herself not only through claiming past differences with the president, but also by allowing more time to pass. Hillary may be terrified that she’ll drop out of sight. Or, maybe Hillary was prodded by a rare moment last April, when she was caught off guard.
Appearing before a friendly audience at a Women in the World meeting, Clinton was asked an obvious but apparently unexpected question: what was her proudest achievement as secretary of state? Astonishingly, she stammered and, according to The New York Times “seemed flustered” – a response that delighted right-wing bloggers, who were equally unable to come up with a single Clinton “win.”
Clearly she has decided she needs to assemble her talking points but, two years from now, will the country still be listening?
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