It is the political story that just won’t go away for Hillary Rodham Clinton:
Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has offered specific positions on a variety of issues while campaigning. But when Gallup recently asked Americans to say what they recall reading or hearing about her, one word -- "email" -- drowned out everything else.
In the verbatim responses from about 750 U.S. adults familiar enough with Clinton to offer an opinion of her, the word "email" came up 329 times, phrased variously as "email," "emails," "email scandal," "email scandals," "that email thing," "email stuff" and "private emails." Relatedly, there were 83 mentions of "server." All of these refer to the controversy involving Clinton's use of private email servers to conduct government business while she was secretary of state.
By contrast, there were few mentions of the substantive themes Clinton has talked about on the campaign trail. For example, "economy" appeared on the list only four times, the same number as for "the middle class." "Gun control" appeared seven times, with even fewer mentions of "college" and "capital gains tax." Even the catchall descriptions "policy" or "policies" were mentioned just nine times.
The data suggest that Clinton has not been able to control the messaging about her and her candidacy, given that the email controversy is the information about her that has been most likely to filter through to the average American.
Granted, she did offer an “apology,” one that was so inauthentic and scripted that it has done little to pivot attention away from her emails. It was a non-apology, apology–one that some in her camp viewed as coming off as more of an insult than an act of contrition. It also rehashed another negative aspect about the Clintons: their addiction to poll testing and assembling focus groups … on everything.
When this story broke in March, I’m sure many in the pundit class thought it would die, it may take a few months, but we would all divert our attention elsewhere. It's sort of hard to do that when you have a candidate who doesn’t engage (she literally roped off the media like cattle during the 4th of July weekend), and thinks that only the media are the ones who are talking about the scandal. Then again, how could the media not report on the various nuggets that have fallen from this tree: possible Espionage Act violations, allegations that classification markers were removed, over 300 emails flagged for further review out of concern that they contained classified information, an attempt to wipe the entire server clean, a State Department staffer who set up the private system, then was paid to maintain it over a period of time, and said staffer who is now pleading the Fifth before Congress.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote about how this scandal is the worst thing for this campaign, as it reminds everyone of the things we dislike about the political power couple. That’s probably going to continue, as we haven’t touched the dealings of the Clinton Foundation yet.
There’s no doubt that Clinton’s campaign has been blindsided by the longevity of this story about her private email system. Their utter indifference towards it has certainly not helped. Since July, the former first lady has dropped 29 points with Democratic women. It was at 71 percent, it’s now 42. Almost every voting demographic says she broke the law with her email system, which includes a substantial proportion of Democrats. Her support has dropped by a third since June in Iowa. She's trailing opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders by 10 in Iowa and a whopping 22 points in New Hampshire. She’s set to testify in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi in October, which will probably exacerbate her troubles. Guy mentioned today that her favorability ratings are lower than at any time during her 2008 bid.
Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post tried to keep blood pressure levels from skyrocketing with Clintonites by writing:
The headlines screaming "Clinton's Support Erodes" are true, but only in a relative sense. In the contest for the Democratic nomination, according to the polls, she has slid all the way from "prohibitive favorite" to something like "strong favorite" -- not bad, given the way she has hobbled herself with the email scandal.
The saving grace for Clinton is that only half of that lost support has gone to Sanders, who is running a smart and effective campaign, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. The other half has gone to Biden, who is not running a campaign at all -- and may never do so.
In his recent media appearances, Biden has revealed his profound grief over the death of his son Beau. No one who watched him last week on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" could come away thinking that Biden is eager to run.
"I don't think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president and, two, they can look at folks out there and say, 'I promise you, you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this,'" he told Colbert. "And I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there."
If you take Biden at his word and leave him out of the equation, Clinton's support leaps to 56 percent, according to the Post-ABC News poll, while Sanders' increases only slightly to 28 percent.
Biden’s stance on 2016 is unknown, though he did meet with a top Obama bundler last week. There’s also the fact that Sanders could win Iowa and New Hampshire, but lose every contest after that since his coalition isn’t as strong with nonwhite Democrats, moderates, and southern voters when the Democratic primaries move below the Mason-Dixon line. Still, the emails are beginning to define Clinton, and it could leave her bloodied in the end.