The New Conventional Wisdom: Hillary Clinton Can Lose

Gallup Clinton Sanders July 2015

Not long ago the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic candidate for president for the 2016 election. After bad polling data and unfavorable publicity, the conventional wisdom is starting to shift with some political writers starting to talk about Clinton being defeatable. Chris Cillizza pointed out poor results for Clinton in four recent polls, noting that while it was expected her favorability would drop in a political campaign, the magnitude of her fall is significant:

But, if Clinton’s sinking poll numbers were to be expected as she re-entered the arena, the pace of their drop and the depths to which they have fallen are surprising. Looking at the national numbers, Clinton’s favorable numbers have come close to collapsing over the past eight months or so; her unfavorable numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire are, without exaggeration, near Trump-ian levels — and that’s a very bad thing considering they are the first two states that will cast votes in the primaries and two key swing states in the general election…

My working theory is that Clinton not only returned to the political world but also did so in the least desirable way possible for people who were already predisposed not to like her: Riding a series of stories about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation donors.

Clinton has had a remarkably bad run of press since she officially became a candidate — punctuated by the now-almost-a-week-long focus on the investigations into whether or not she sent classified materials from her private e-mail address. To date there have only really been two storylines surrounding Clinton in the presidential contest: 1) How she is inevitable as the Democratic nominee, and 2) How her past dealings at the State Department (and after it) are problematic for her presidential campaign.

Neither of those storylines work in Clinton’s favor when it comes to the Republicans and independents with whom she has lost ground. The lack of a series primary fight drives the coronation idea which independents blanch at, and the focus on her e-mails and donations to the Clinton Foundation remind unaffiliated voters and Republicans of all the things they didn’t like about the Clintons back in the 1990s. One thing that isn’t problematic for Clinton is her standing among Democrats, which, as the chart above shows, have stayed not only consistent but consistently high not only nationally but in early states too.

Which leads to the question: How much does Clinton’s unpopularity really matter?

After discussing this issue further, he concluded (emphasis mine):

For Clinton, these polls argue that she may be hard pressed to win a traditional presidential election in which likability matters most. To get to the White House, Clinton almost certainly needs to turn the choice into one about experience and readiness to do the job at hand. If it’s a popularity contest, these early returns suggest she will lose.

The possibility that Clinton would make a poor candidate in the general election could change the willingness of many Democrats to hand her the nomination.

Mark Halparin looked more closely at the  dangers to Clinton posed by Bernie Sanders in writing, Hillary Clinton’s Bernie Sanders Problem Is Bigger Than Anyone Realizes. Well, maybe not bigger than anyone realizes. I’m finding many liberal Democrats who are increasingly confident that Bernie can win the nomination, and that he will make a stronger general election candidate than Clinton. Halparin concentrated more on how Sanders could create problems for Clinton, but the more he creates problems for Clinton, it becomes more likely that, as in 2008, she might be defeated for the nomination.

Ron Brownstein provides a look at what the media narrative on the email scandal can be in an article entitled, Parsing Clinton: What Is She Hiding?Her slippery defense of the email scandal requires a Clintonologist.

Clinton has put herself in a box. She can either hand the server over to an independent third party, who would protect her private email and our government’s working email. Or she can stonewall.

The latter course gives every voter the right—and every self-respecting journalist the responsibility—to ask, “What were you hiding, Hillary?”

What are you hiding?

Even Democratic voters who are now in denial that this is a serious scandal might began to worry about this before the convention.

As I said above, many liberals are more optimistic about Sanders’ chances. H. A. Goodman wrote at Huffington Post last month, Why Bernie Sanders Will Become the Democratic Nominee and Defeat Any Republican in 2016:

What gives Hillary Clinton a better chance of winning states like Ohio (Brookings has a study titledDid Manufacturing Job Losses Hold the Midwest Back) than Bernie Sanders? Unlike Sanders, Hillary was for the TPP and voters weary of China and Vietnam taking jobs away from Americans will think twice about Hillary Clinton.

Also, communities around the country hit by the repercussions of American counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where close to 7,000 Americans died, over 50,000 wounded in combat, and over 900,000 injured, will think twice about voting for Hillary Clinton after her Iraq War vote. Bernie Sanders, however, was on the right side of history with Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s always against horrible trade agreements, supported gay marriage and marijuana legalization (Hillary was against even the decriminalization of marijuana not long ago) and championed a range of other issues.

In other words, the electoral map shows that Bernie Sanders is not only a realistic candidate for president, but his record on a number of issues speaks to a wide range of voters. If Democrats simply vote based on their value system (considering demographic shifts favor Democrats), Bernie Sanders can easily win the presidency. If they nominate Hillary Clinton out of despair, thinking this is still 1999, then email scandals and an Iraq War vote could mitigate any advantages a Democratic challenger has over Jeb Bush or another Republican.

After recent polls came out, Goodman wrote, Reason #1 to Vote Bernie: Sanders Does ‘Better Than Clinton’ Against GOP in Swing States:

It’s believed by some people that Clinton is the only way for Democrats to win the White House. However, this mentality ignores the key issue of trust and how this sentiment will decide the presidential election. For example, Quinnipiac states that, “For 38 percent of Ohio voters, honesty is the top quality in a candidate.” The belief system stating only Clinton can beat a GOP challenger also ignores the recent finding from Quinippiac that reads, “In several matchups in Iowa and Colorado, another Democratic contender, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, runs as well as, or better than Clinton against Rubio, Bush and Walker.”

Furthermore, the number one reason for Democrats to vote for Bernie Sanders in 2016 is that swing states are already moving away from Clinton (in search of more honest candidates like Sanders) and Election Day is just over 470 days away. If Bernie Sanders has gone from an impossibility, to drawing crowds of thousands, and now running “as well as, or better than Clinton against Rubio, Bush, and Walker,” then imagine the political world 470 days from now…

Ultimately, in terms of trust, nobody has ever accused Bernie Sanders of being untrustworthy; in fact his honesty at times has been seen as a political liability. If polls had once convinced some voters that Sanders couldn’t win, these same polls should now illuminate a rapidly changing political evolution in key swing states. Quinnipiac recently stated “Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is behind or on the wrong side of a too-close-to-call result in matchups with three leading Republican contenders.” Those words, as well as the finding that “U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, runs as well as, or better than Clinton against Rubio, Bush and Walker,” should be the number one reason to vote for the Vermont Senator in 2016.

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