Politics & Policy

Are Democratic Insiders Starting to Panic about Hillary?

Washington, D.C. — The annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner is indeed — as President Obama put it last night — “where Washington celebrates itself.” Little real news is ever made, but Beltway media, politicians, and consultants attend in such large numbers that you can get a sense of the current conventional wisdom.

Cecily Strong, the Saturday Night Live comic who followed President Obama on the podium, was so blatantly in Hillary’s corner that it was jarring. But what was striking about last night’s dinner was that many people have come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in deep trouble and she is no longer as inevitable as people once thought. Working reporters who cover her and other Democratic politicians wouldn’t go on the record, but you heard the same thing from several of them:

“It’s not that she’s too old — she just can’t relate to younger generations.”

“A couple more scandals, and you’ll wonder if they will start to define her campaign.”

“Younger women know a female will become president in their lifetime; many of them don’t think it has to be or even should be Hillary.”

“How can she possibly distance herself from the Obama administration she served for four years, but whose policies increasingly alienate independent voters she needs?”

RELATED: Will the Clinton-Cash Scandal Doom Hillary’s White House Bid?

That last comment goes to the heart of her problem with Democratic insiders. Publicly, they praise Hillary as a candidate of exceptional experience in government and one who is likely to harvest bushels of votes from people eager to elect the first female president. Privately, they fret about a recent Quinnipiac poll in which 54 percent of Americans say Clinton is not honest or trustworthy. Among independents, that number hits 61 percent. “Candidates distrusted by that many people can win the White House, but it leaves no margin for error or another big scandal,” one Democratic former officeholder admitted to me.

54 percent of Americans say Clinton is not honest or trustworthy.

That’s why so many Democrats hope Hillary Clinton will be challenged by a more formidable rival than the former governors or senators who are currently lining up to oppose her: Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb. Senator Elizabeth Warren, an economic populist to the left of Hillary, has steadfastly declined to run for president. But each new scandal or Hillary campaign stumble could fuel the pressure for her to enter the race. Most Democratic strategists believe that only a woman could seize the nomination from Mrs. Clinton, given Hillary’s name ID and campaign war chest. In 2008, Barack Obama would have had no hope against Hillary, despite his formidable campaign skills, if he hadn’t also had a history-making card to play as the first African-American man with a realistic chance of becoming president.

What Democrats really worry about is that no one will beat the Clinton Machine for the Democratic nomination — it will survive and go on to become an inviting target for Republicans in the general-election battle.

RELATED: Do Hillary’s Fair-Pay Talking Points Apply to Her Own Family?

#related#Focus groups and polls show that voters are most interested in finding candidates they judge as authentic — leaders who don’t play the normal political games. For Hillary Clinton, that represents a challenge. Her campaign is emphasizing her desire to help “everyday” people, while at the same time the press is starting to reveal the Clinton Foundation as a lucrative slush fund for the Clintons and their friends. In some years, the foundation spends $500 million, but overhead, salaries, travel, and undisclosed “other” expenses eat up a huge chunk of that, leaving perhaps 15 percent for actual charitable work.

Investigative journalist Peter Schweizer, whose book Clinton Cash is due for release on May 5, as well as Pulitzer Prize–winning Jo Becker and and Mike McIntire of the New York Times, have raised new questions. Their research points to a disturbing pattern of foreign contributions and enormous speaking fees for Bill Clinton that appear to be timed to coincide with preferential actions the State Department took while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state.

RELATED: With Hillary, Appearances Are Everything

Hillary Clinton has dismissed the reporting as “distractions and attacks.” But she did find time last week to suddenly call for a truce in what she sees as an increasingly hostile political climate. “I am tired of the mean-spiritedness in politics,” she told voters in Claremont, N.H. “Enough with the attacks and the anger, let’s find answers together and figure out what we’re going to do.”

Hillary Clinton could, of course, put all the concerns about her family foundation and its seedy dealings to rest if she were to release all the e-mails concerning the foundation that were in her private e-mail account — the one she used, in violation of explicit government rules, to conduct government business. But she has already announced that the e-mails she viewed as “private” have been deleted and her server scrubbed. She has yet to answer questions about whether e-mails that concerned the Clinton Foundation during her tenure at the State Department were “private,” in her estimation. Because they are now gone, we will probably never know.

RELATED: Hillary Is Way Out of Step With Her Own Party on War

Democrats privately believe that the Clintons can recover from the e-mail and foundation scandals because it’s unlikely reporters will ever find a “smoking gun” that explicitly links foreign donations with public actions. But Democrats also know that other scandals may soon be unearthed. And if they do, not only will Hillary Clinton prove unable to establish herself as an “authentic” candidate, she also will establish herself as a pro at conducting an “authentic” cover-up.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review Online.

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