Hillary Clinton approval levels slip to lowest level since 2008

Translation: Popularity in the abstract differs from that in application. Gallup notices a significant decline in Hillary Clinton’s favorability, which has dropped from 66% to just above majority level at 54%. Most of that decline has taken place over the past year, and almost half of it since January:

Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has dropped slightly, although a majority of Americans continue to view her in a positive light. As Clinton publicizes her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” 54% of Americans view her favorably. This is down from 59% in February, and significantly less than the ratings she received as secretary of state, which were consistently above 60%.

The latest findings come from a Gallup poll conducted June 5-8. Though Clinton has said she will not announce whether she’ll run for president until at least later this year, her latest book has been widely framed as a preamble to another presidential bid and a move typical of White House hopefuls. Clinton already has the support of many elected officials and Democratic Party representatives if she chooses to run. Americans have named her their Most Admired Woman 18 times.

Clinton’s current favorability rating is the lowest it has been since August 2008 (54%), when she was preparing to deliver a speech at the Democratic National Convention endorsing then-Sen. Barack Obama, who defeated her in a hard-fought primary battle for the party’s 2008 presidential nomination.

There’s nothing slight about a 12-point drop in favorability, and no coincidence about its relation to her 2008 standing. As Hillary moves farther away from her tenure at State and closer to the presidential campaign for which she’s obviously preparing, Americans have to take a closer look at Hillary rather than give a charitable and fuzzy theoretical evaluation. The same dynamic took place between 2006 and 2008, when she went from a theoretical candidate to an actual candidate, and the Clinton team learned the hard way about the difference between the two.

They’re learning that lesson this week, too. Hillary had more than a year to prepare for her big reboot as a national figure through the release of her campaign memoir Hard Choices, and yet she looks more and more like a rookie, drifting into terrible sound bites and reminding everyone why she lost the last time she was considered “inevitable.” In my column for The Week, I ask whether Democrats are looking at this week and starting to look for a Plan B:

The launch of a political memoir gives a prospective candidate enormous advantages, especially someone with a long public track record like Clinton’s. Even on controversial issues, the long format allows an author to craft a narrative that will later serve as the basis of debate, especially in media interviews. The strategy is called “shaping the battlefield,” and it helps not only to set the narrative context of questions that come (“On page 225, you write that…”), but also prepares the candidate to handle the topics with at least some easily recalled talking points.

In addition, the book itself stokes interest in the coming campaign, particularly in the case of Hillary Clinton. Any memoir by a retiring or retired Cabinet member that gets published during the tenure of the president she served will grab headlines and attention anyway, and the political tension between Barack Obama and Clinton’s ambitions make it even more attractive. It doesn’t matter that the book Hard Choices has largely been panned as dull and unrevealing, because its ultimate purpose is to generate interest in and leverage for Hillary Clinton.

At first, it seemed to work. Before the book even hit stores, newspapers and television shows dissected the leaked excerpts that made their way to high-profile outlets. The topics touched on controversies that Clinton had avoided discussing, such as Benghazi and the lack of foreign-policy accomplishments during her tenure as secretary of State, but those topics would have come up anyway, and the Clinton team knows it. Their effort to get in front of those debates and frame them in the narrative context most favorable to Hillary Clinton’s political prospects largely paid off.

That strategy fell apart in a hurry this week. The Clinton team chose ABC’s Diane Sawyer as their lead interview for Hillary’s book rollout, a reporter/anchor with enough news credibility to overcome any sense of getting softballs, but without a track record of having a real killer instinct either. One might have expected that a candidate with as much experience in handling the media could have managed an in-depth interview with Sawyer, but the interview blew up in her face.

It’s difficult to recall just when a candidate with this many advantages managed to blow them all and torpedo his or her own strategy. Oh, wait, I do — it was Hillary Clinton in 2007-8.