At least, Barack Obama has to hope it’s peaking, rather than continuing to build. Bloomberg headlines the poll results with an explicit slam at Obama: “Clinton Popularity Prompts Buyer’s Remorse.” So far, the numbers aren’t overwhelming, but they are growing:
The most popular national political figure in America today is one who was rejected by her own party three years ago: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans hold a favorable view of her and one-third are suffering a form of buyer’s remorse, saying the U.S. would be better off now if she had become president in 2008 instead of Barack Obama.
The finding in the latest Bloomberg National Poll shows a higher level of wishful thinking about a Hillary Clinton presidency than when a similar question was asked in July 2010. Then, a quarter of Americans held such a view.
How nostalgic have we gotten for the Clintons? (And doesn’t seeing that in writing seem a little … disturbing?) Not as much as one might think, given the headline. In this poll, 34% think that life would have been better under a Hillary Clinton presidency, including almost half (44%) of self-described Tea Partiers. Only 13% think it would have been worse, which could be a little hard to imagine at the moment anyway. A large plurality of 47% thinks it would make no difference.
Frankly, I’m not sure whether I think it would be better or the same. Given the fact that Hillary tried pushing a health-care system overhaul even worse in some aspects than ObamaCare when given a chance, I don’t think that we’d have avoided the outcome in that policy field we have now. In fact, given that Hillary would have been more adept at working with Congress than Captain Kick-Ass, we may very well have wound up with the “public option” to boot while Democrats had 60 seats in the Senate. Otherwise, the economic and regulatory policies would have been roughly the same; the only difference would have been that Democrats would be accusing their opponents of sexism rather than racism for opposing them.
However, this kind of nostalgia could prove a potent political force, especially if Democrats decide that Obama simply cannot win a second term and will do a lot of damage to down-ticket races in 2012. There is no way Hillary will run a primary campaign against Obama, and we’re rapidly running out of time for any Democrat to run a realistic campaign to knock him off of the 2012 general-election ballot. But if Obama surprises people and pulls out on his own — as John Fund speculated yesterday and I speculated last month — a Hillary run ceases being bad news for Obama and starts becoming a Republican nightmare:
She can step into the void with promises to return America to the economic policies of her husband. The Left may not have much love for Hillary any longer, but she was winning the very working-class Democrats in the 2008 primaries that Obama is losing to the Republicans now. States like Pennsylvania and Michigan would snap back into place for Democrats, and perhaps Wisconsin as well. Having Obama off the top of the ticket would take some of the downward pressure off of some other Senate races, and Hillary would likely be a plus in most.
If Hillary took Obama’s place in 2012, Republicans would face a much tougher electoral map. They would still have the advantage of running against Obama’s record, but the GOP may not capture that disaffected Democratic working-class vote if Hillary also ran against Obamanomics and promised a return to Clintonian prosperity. The eventual Republican nominee would have at least a tougher task in winning those votes and the White House. And even if Hillary lost in a general election — Democrats lost the White House in 1952 and 1968, coincidentally both times with Richard Nixon on the Republican tickets — the Democrats might save a few Senate seats with an improved turnout in key states.
Still, this is a very low probability outcome … for now. It’s hard to imagine anyone offering the “if you love me” line at public rallies deciding on his own to veer into a quiet retirement, and if Democrats are seen as pushing Obama out of a second run, it could very well split the party for years to come. But when Hillary nostalgia starts becoming a bigger cultural phenomenon and Obama’s polls keep sliding into Bush territory, those low probabilities might have to get adjusted upward.
Update: Maybe it’s just ingratitude.