The McCaining of Hillary Clinton


For a long time conservative journalists I've talked to thought there was a substantial anti-Clinton vote in the Democratic primaries. The thinking was that if she had 99 percent name recognition and she was only polling at 40-odd percent nationally, literally everyone else was dead-set against her.

Of course, this wasn't true. Most Democrats like the Clintons. In New Hampshire 83 percent of Democrats had a favorable impression of Bill Clinton, even though Hillary Clinton won only 43 percent of them. Seventy-four percent of voters had a favorable impression of Hillary. It couldn't have been more different than the Republican contest, where the de facto frontrunner, John McCain, had and has fractious relations with the Republican mainstream and the party elite. It's always been possible for a Republican like Mitt Romney to build an anti-McCain coalition, as may be happening right now in Florida. But it wasn't possible for Obama, or anyone else, to build an anti-Clinton coalition in Democratic primaries.

Until now. Bill Clinton's humiliating, self-defeating campaign in South Carolina and Hillary's offputting performance in the last two debates have really started to eat away at the residual support of Democrats. TNR and LA Times columnist Jonathan Chait wrote the best column on this, wrestling with his own anti-Clinton stirrings:

Conservatives might have had a point about the Clintons' character. Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky jeopardized the whole progressive project for momentary pleasure. The Clintons gleefully triangulated the Democrats in Congress to boost his approval rating. They do seem to have a feeling of entitlement to power.

And they're rather blatant about it. What could be motivating Clinton aides (and Bill Clinton himself) to go on record saying they're defining Barack Obama—who a lot of Clinton voters would be comfortable nominating after Hillary gets her 8 years—as the descendent of Jesse Jackson? Just plain arrogance. It's turning Democrats against them in a way they haven't been since the shaky days of early 1998 and the Lewinsky scandal.

The first liberals to abandon Clinton back then were, of course, the liberal punditocracy. They've already started jumping ship. There is palpable rage and disgust at the Clntons for the race they've run: It's starting to reach the levels of ire that conservative journalists have for John McCain. But for Obama to actually defeat Clinton he needs that large, soft chunk of the Democratic electorate who generally like the 42nd First Family, and who wish they were still in the White House, to become more comfortable with him then they are with them. The Clintons might be ensuring that change.