Team Hillary vows to kill off nascent Biden campaign

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 27-

This week:

  • Sanders catching Clinton in Iowa
  • Hillary campaign offers animal fight response
  • Obama donors reportedly going to Biden

President 2016


More bad news for Hillary Clinton came over the weekend, along the exact lines we suggested it might last week. According to the new Des Moines Register poll, she now leads Bernie Sanders by only 7 points – 37 to 30 percent – in Iowa, where she had been doing well up to now. In May, she led Sanders in this same poll by 41 points. She has lost one-third of her support in Iowa over the summer.

Quinnipiac University’s new national poll has a bright spot for her: 57 percent still believe she has “strong leadership qualities” – down just a bit from 62 percent in April.

Aside from that, though, the poll has no good news to offer for Clinton’s candidacy. And it provides several new insights into her weaknesses.

Word Association: First, there was a free word-association segment of the poll, offering respondents a chance to give one word describing each candidate. The top three answers for Clinton: “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy,” and these accounted for about 400 answers out of 1,563. (Also within the top 20 were “crook,” “untruthful,” “criminal,” “deceitful,” “email,” “Benghazi,” “corrupt,” “crooked.”)

For context, the first five responses for Jeb Bush were: “Bush,” family,” “honest,” “weak,” and “brother.” (Overall, the responses indicate that people don’t think Bush is a villain, but they do see him as a dynasty candidate.)

For even more context, the first three responses for Donald Trump were also quite negative – “arrogant,” “blowhard,” and “idiot,” “businessman,” and “clown.” Not much better than Clinton, but there is an important difference that illustrates her problem: These top responses account for only about 130 replies out of 1,563.

So Clinton is not just viewed in negative terms, but negative public opinions about her are strikingly uniform in a way they aren’t for the other candidate with similarly bad favorable numbers. It comes as no surprise that the poll also showed 61 percent now believe Clinton is not “honest and trustworthy.”

Favorability: Speaking of those favorable numbers, Clinton stands at 39 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable with the general population. That’s pretty bad. Only 11 percent of Democrats view her unfavorably, and that’s also a bad sign – she isn’t suffering the surmountable problem that congressional Republicans suffer because their own voters are so much more likely to give them low marks and vote for them anyway in November.

Clinton has little room for growth, as only 8 percent say they haven’t heard enough to form an opinion. (Trump is slightly worse at 36/54, with similar name recognition.) Among independents, her numbers are even worse: 28/61. Among voters under age 34, she is slightly underwater (40/41). But the worst part is that her favorables among women are now in negative territory as well, at 44/45. Clinton needs to excite young and women voters in order to make up for an expected drop-off of black margins and turnout from the Obama years – even if that drop-off is relatively modest. She isn’t cutting the mustard so far.

That said, this poll does not bear out what others have suggested – that Clinton trails Bernie Sanders among Democratic men in the primary. She leads him, 38 to 29, with 21 percent for Biden.

Among Democrats, Clinton still maintains 76 percent favorability and just 11 percent unfavorability. And here she pins her hopes – that she can keep up her good name among partisan Democrats and hang on against all others through the primary, amid a criminal investigation into her handling of classified information during her service as secretary of State.

Head-to-Head: Clinton’s general election polling does not at first seem as bad as these other indicators might suggest. She leads Jeb Bush 42 to 40 percent. She leads Marco Rubio 44 to 43 percent. She leads Donald Trump 45 to 41 percent.

But as we often note here, keep in mind that Clinton is a universally-known candidate with high unfavorables and very little room to grow. With the exception of Trump, the Republicans listed above are not, and all of them – even Bush – will have an easier time finding new support that doesn’t show up in the polls yet. It spells trouble for Clinton that as recently as April, she polled at or near 50 percent against all Republicans. Now she polls at or near 40 percent.

The most dangerous part of this poll for Clinton, though, is that she doesn’t poll as well against these Republicans as Biden does, even though he has slightly more room to grow and is not nearly as intensely disliked (only 39 percent unfavorable). If Democratic primary voters ever figure out that their chances with Biden are substantially better, Clinton’s support will suffer.

Outlook: That Clinton’s team is running scared is quite evident. This is why Clinton’s rhetoric has become CIB041515-Clintonincreasingly shrill. Her “gaffes” about pro-lifers holding views more appropriate for terrorists, and about Republicans wanting to ship illegal immigrants in cattle-cars, Auschwitz style, are not mere sloppy gaffes. They are blue meat for a base whose support she needs now more than ever.

Clinton had hoped that by now she would be competing for and winning over swing-voters as early as this summer. But her scandal problems have left her vulnerable for the primary and so she’s struggling to attract hard-partisan Republican-haters.

Still, even if team Clinton feels threatened, it’s equally obvious that they don’t plan to go down without a fight. Last week’s story, planted in POLITICO, evinces a desire to “kill” off all of this talk about Joe Biden making a presidential bid. They want to strangle this baby in the crib. Clinton circulated a memo at the DNC meeting in Minneapolis designed to intimidate anyone who would challenger with the sheer size and scope of her organization. She has also made mention of her progress in winning commitments from so-called “superdelegates” to the Democratic convention next summer – her campaiginers are claiming to have 440 commitments in all, which puts her 20 percent of the way to the nomination before a single vote has been cast.

But Team Clinton cannot put its faith in superdelegates, who will abandon her if she fails to put primary wins up on the board. Her campaign’s media-filtered trash-talk reflects a level of confidence or at least braggadocio that may not be justified. Her problem is that the Obama donors really are beginning to line up behind Biden and not her. We mentioned this last week as one of the main obstacles Biden faced, and he doesn’t seem to be sweating it. The Draft Biden superPAC is already attracting Obama bundlers – out of 820 in all, only 51 have committed to Clinton.

Moreover, no one should take Biden’s stated reluctance to run due to the recent death of his 46-year-old son at face value. Biden’s pain is real – and it should be noted that he has suffered multiple tragic losses in his life – his first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, one month after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. But if this new loss were a real obstacle to his presidential ambition, he would surely not be discussing it on a call as he did. (Also, Biden’s son reportedly told him to go for it before he died.)

Even so, it must be acknowledged that early-state insiders are skeptical that he’ll challenge Clinton. But it is also difficult to divine the intentions of anonymous Iowans and New Hampshirites at this time of the election cycle when they make comments about candidates – it might be their own agenda speaking.

Biden, as a candidate, is solid, even if he isn’t top-shelf. He may be on the older side – he would be inaugurated at age 74 were he to run and win – and he may have some clownish qualities, but he is no joke. His political, rhetorical, and debating skills are as vastly superior to Clinton’s as the New York Yankees’ baseball skills are to any little league team’s.

Most importantly: At this point, Republicans would probably rather face her than him.

A full-on battle between Clinton money and (now much bigger than 2008) Obama-Biden money would be very exciting to watch. Democrats would have an opportunity to repudiate their Clinton wing for good.

As an added attraction, the Clinton reputation for ruthlessness holds forth the real possibility of a murder-suicide situation. Who knows? Maybe Bernie Sanders finds a way to squeak through.

Either way, Clinton’s vulnerability just keeps growing and growing, and there’s too much time and too many still-to-be-released emails left for her to run out the clock.