Polls: Is 'Ready for Hillary' Narrative a Mirage?

Posted: Jan 30, 2015 3:30 PM

We'll touch on some of the action on the GOP side of things in a moment, but first, a few notes on Democrats' presumptive nominee.  Earlier in the week we noted that Hillaryworld views their candidate as so inevitable, and believes the rest of the prospective field to be so weak, that they are openly toying with the idea of skipping primary debates and are already discussing vice presidential selections.  Matt writes this afternoon on Team Hillary's  internal deliberations over when to officially launch her campaign; some in her camp are convinced that time isn't of the essence and that she's "better off as a non-candidate" anyway.  Better off as a non-candidate.  I think what that nameless senior aide meant was that there is no reason for Hillary to rush into official candidate hood and prematurely take on all the baggage that status entails.  If there's no risk of being outflanked by primary opposition, why pull a Jeb and fire the opening gun sooner than later?  Jeb had reasons to do so -- and his aggression seems to have paid dividends.  Hillary, for the most part, doesn't.  Another advantage to waiting is that once she jumps in, it'll be the Hillary Clinton Show, 24/7.  Even if she waits until the summer to declare, she'll still run as the obvious nominee for a full year before the Democratic National Convention.  'Hillary fatigue' will become a media narrative at some point, so why needlessly subject voters to three more months of that product at the front end?  Finally, Hillary's advisers know that she tends to be more appealing as a concept (First! Woman! President!) than as an actual candidate.  Her skills as a campaigner are hugely overrated, in part because of her husband's preternatural political gifts.  To wit, the sky-high favorable ratings she amassed while carrying out the largely apolitical role as America's top diplomat have come crashing back to earth as she re-emerges as an explicitly political figure:

The Washington Post's recent polling data gave Mrs. Clinton wide leads over several potential Republican opponents, but Democratic firm PPP (which has a spotty reputation) has published some rather different findings:

The automated poll of nearly 900 registered voters, conducted last week by Public Policy Polling, found that 48 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, compared to 43 percent who viewed the former secretary of State favorably...While Clinton — the prospective favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination should she enter the race — holds leads over every major GOP candidate tested in the poll, she doesn’t break 50 percent against any, and some are well within striking distance. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker comes closest, with Clinton leading him by a margin of 45 percent to 42 percent (with 14 percent not sure who they’d vote for) – within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

Walker fever. That survey, incidentally, was commissioned by supporters of Elizabeth Warren, the hardcore Massachusetts liberal who's ruled out a 2016 run. The Hillary folks had better hope she sticks to that decision, because she's the only major figure in the mix who could cause the Clinton machine any real headaches from the left. Meanwhile, David Axelrod is reportedly going around expressing bewilderment as to what the animating idea behind a Hillary campaign would be:

Axelrod was saying, "we have a group called 'Ready for Hillary' that we've all been talking about. But what does that mean? What are we ready for?"

I suspect the answer to that two-part question is pretty simple, actually: "We're ready for a woman president, and Hillary Clinton is a super famous female politician, so it's her turn." She'll toss out a few key initiatives, of course, but we're going to hear a lot about glass ceilings and the "historic nature" of her candidacy. Identity politics works pretty well for Democrats at the national level, so while this strategy may be groan-worthy and distasteful, I'm not convinced it'll be ineffective in the end. And Axelrod of all people should recognize that mindless slogans ("change we can believe in!") with a whiff of self-fulfilling prophesy ("we are the ones we've been waiting for") aren't necessarily a handicap. Over in Republican land, the major news of the day, obviously, is Mitt Romney's decision to bow out of the 2016 sweepstakes, which is the right call.  He's achieved the status of respected and admired elder statesman within the party, and he'd be opening himself up to humiliation by pursuing the presidency for a third time and failing.  His strong polling at the moment wasn't likely to last, and Jeb's been working hard behind the scenes to marginalize Romney through a show of brute political force.  The drama now shifts to watching Mitt's next moves, which may involve throwing his operation behind Chris Christie (the two are dining this evening). That could set off a heavy duty battle on the center-right between Jeb and Christie.  Oh, and just for good measure, CNN's Jake Tapper isn't fully persuaded that Romney has comprehensively pulled the plug on 2016:

If he's out, Tapper asks, why all the hedging and parsed language? In reality, the only way Mitt 3.0 happens now is if he somehow emerges from a brokered convention, the prospect of which is stronger than it's been in decades, Sean Trende argues in a much-discussed piece this week.  But even if there isn't a clear nominee-in-waiting by the time the GOP rolls into Cleveland, how would Romney end up as the standard-bearer, as opposed to the declared candidates left standing -- who'd have spent months and millions earning delegates and votes by that point?