WASHINGTON – After months of trying to weaken Hillary Clinton by pounding her with everything they’ve got, the amount of progress Republicans have made is pretty close to zero.
The GOP seems to have forgotten the central fact about the Clintons: That which does not kill them makes them stronger.
Yes, it’s true that a Washington Post-ABC News poll reported last week that Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has dipped to 45 percent. Yes, people seem to disapprove of the way she handled her personal emails while she was secretary of state, wonder about all the money sloshing around the Clinton Foundation and question how she handled the Benghazi tragedy.
And yes, the poll found that in a hypothetical matchup against Jeb Bush, her lead has shrunk in recent months from 12 points to just three. All of this should certainly cause the Clinton campaign to pay attention. But when asked who they thought would win the election, 55 percent said Clinton while only 39 percent said Bush.
Meanwhile, it is anything but certain that Bush will win the nomination, given the general chaos in the GOP. No matter: Clinton still leads against all comers, according to the polling averages compiled by the Real Clear Politics website.
The Republican field is so big that the networks scheduled to air the first debates have had to establish rules to determine who can participate. Fox News has said its Aug. 6 debate will include the 10 candidates scoring highest in an average of polls. CNN, for the Sept. 16 debate, announced it will also invite the top 10, but then hold a second debate for those who failed to make the cut. It sounds like Thanksgiving – an adult table and a kids table. Now you behave over there, or no pumpkin pie.
Since getting to the big table is probably the difference between a viable candidacy and a futile one, there is a powerful incentive for GOP hopefuls to do anything they can to attract attention. If a debate were held tomorrow, two contenders best known for saying ridiculously outrageous and incendiary things – Donald Trump and Ben Carson – would be in the top 10.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, those who were hoping that Clinton would be challenged, if only to hone her skills for the general election, are getting their wish. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, promises to get more traction with the party’s liberal base than former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee.
But only in relative terms: Clinton has the support of nearly two-thirds of Democrats, according to the Post-ABC poll, leaving the rest to share the remaining third. Of those who have announced they are running, only Sanders manages to outscore “No Opinion,” and not by much.
We’ll have a better idea of how Clinton will perform on the stump this time around following her big kickoff rally, scheduled for Saturday on New York’s Roosevelt Island. So far, I’d say she’s doing quite well.
Her fiery speech last week in defense of voting rights was her campaign’s best moment so far. Clinton slammed several of the leading Republican candidates – by name – for their roles in GOP-led efforts to restrict the franchise through voter-ID laws and other means. And she called for automatic voter registration of all citizens upon reaching age 18.
Talk about hitting the right buttons. The big question about Clinton’s candidacy is whether she can inspire the coalition that twice elected President Obama – young people, minorities, women. Voting rights is an issue that reliably sends African-Americans to the polls in large numbers. I’ll be surprised if Clinton doesn’t soon have major messages for Latinos on immigration policy and women on issues of reproductive rights.
How cynical, Republicans complain. Translation: How effective.
So far, Clinton has done any number of things right – and, by my count, nothing wrong. Next year’s election is still hers to lose, and she doesn’t seem inclined to do anything of the sort.
Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.