Whatever the Hillary Clinton team had in mind for this summer, this certainly can’t have been it. Her book Hard Choices got panned as political pablum, and she stumbled throughout her promotional tour on what should have been easy and easily-foreseeable questions about her personal wealth and tenure at State. Over the past week, she picked a fight with the White House by attempting to distance herself from Barack Obama’s lack of “organizing principles” in foreign policy, only to make a quick and embarrassing retreat when rebuked publicly by David Axelrod.
At the beginning of the summer, Clinton’s popularity put her far above the presumed pack for the 2016 presidential race. These days, according to a new Marist poll … not so much:
Potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s lead over a crowded prospective Republican field has narrowed and her support has slipped below 50 percent, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll. …
For example, Clinton leads Christie 47 percent to 41 percent with 12 percent of voters undecided. In April, she led 53-42 with 5 percent undecided, and in February she enjoyed a 58-37 lead against the governor with 6 percent undecided.
She’s seen her cushion against Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush, erode to 48 percent to 41 percent with 10 percent undecided. That’s down from 55-39 with 6 percent undecided in April.
And against Paul, her lead has shrunk to 48 percent to 42 percent with 10 percent undecided from 54-40 and 6 percent undecided in April.
Part of this result could be the sample, which appears to have overrepresented independents, with a D/R/I of 28/25/45. However, in most of the matchups independents came very close to the overall number. Against Christie, Hillary scores a 44/37 with independents, 46/38 against Jeb Bush, and 45/40 against Rand Paul.
Even if the sample gets balanced out with more Democrats and fewer independents, though, it’s clear that Hillary has faded considerably over the summer. Whatever spin Team Clinton wants to put on her individual statements and retreats, the cumulative effect has been to both raise her profile and reduce her support. It’s a bad way to start a presidential campaign.
Aaron Blake argues that her status as a contender at this point is really just a function of name recognition, and not much more:
Clinton’s continued lead, at this point, is pretty clearly a function of her superior name ID. While Clinton wins the votes of 97 percent of “strong Democrats” in all three matchups, Christie and Paul take only 91 percent of “strong Republicans.” While Clinton takes 79 percent of “soft Democrats,” Paul only takes 65 percent of “soft Republicans.” That’s largely because these Republicans aren’t as well-known to their base.
In all three matchups, Clinton continues to take at least 20 percent of so-called “soft Republicans.” That’s to her credit, and good on her if she can somehow keep it up. We would wager, though, that as those “soft Republicans” actually get to know Republicans and the GOP’s campaign against Clinton begins in earnest, there’s no way Clinton will continue to pick off one in five of even the most casual GOP voters. It’s just not possible in today’s polarized political environment.
As for pure independents– those who don’t really lean toward either party — they continue to favor Clinton in two of the three matchups. But in all three matchups, around one-third of these voters are undecided. These are the voters that will decide the 2016 election, and there are a lot of them up for grabs. We doubt many of them know much about Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, even as all of them know who Clinton is.
At this point in the game, Clinton is so well-known that she’s effectively the incumbent, trying to ward off her lesser-known challengers. And, as with an incumbent, to the extent that she’s below 50 percent in the polls, it’s hard to call her a favorite.
And don’t look now, but the Hug Summit last night may have to be repeated. Josh Rogin reports on more attempts to distance Hillary from Obama’s foreign policy:
Throughout 2011 and well into 2012, President Obama’s White House barred Hillary Clinton’s State Department from even talking directly to the moderate Syrian rebels. This was only one of several ways the Obama team kept the Clinton team from doing more in Syria, back before the revolution was hijacked by ISIS and spread into Iraq.
The policy feud has flared up again in recent weeks, with Clinton decrying Obama’s Syria policy, Obama’s inner circle hitting back, and the president himself calling criticism of his Syria moves “horseshit.” Obama and his former secretary of state promised to patch things up at a social gathering on Wednesday. But the rift is deep, and years in the making.
Clinton and her senior staff warned the White House multiple times before she left office that the Syrian civil war was getting worse, that working with the civilian opposition was not enough, and that the extremists were gaining ground. The United States needed to engage directly with the Free Syrian Army, they argued; the loose conglomeration of armed rebel groups was more moderate than the Islamic forces—and begging for help from the United States. According to several administration officials who were there, her State Department also warned the White House that Iraq could fall victim to the growing instability in Syria. It was all part of a State Department plea to the president to pursue a different policy.
“The State Department warned as early as 2012 that extremists in eastern Syria would link up with extremists in Iraq. We warned in 2012 that Iraq and Syria would become one conflict,” said former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. “We highlighted the competition between rebel groups on the ground, and we warned if we didn’t help the moderates, the extremists would gain.”
But the warnings, which also came from other senior officials—including then-CIA chief David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—fell on deaf ears. Obama’s small circle of White House foreign policy advisers resisted efforts to make connections with rebel fighters on the ground until 2013, when the administration began to train and equip a few select vetted brigades. For many who worked on Syria policy inside the administration, it was too little, too late.
If so, though, why didn’t we find out more about this in Hard Choices?