The.S.S. Hillary Clinton — like the Titanic, once considered unsinkable — has hit not just one iceberg but two. First was the debate, then came an entirely unexpected assault from the elite liberal press. Instead of riding to her rescue or at the least giving her a pass (as they’ve always done), they’re now piling on just like the big, mean men in the Democratic race. New York’s Junior Senator has had a couple of really bad hair weeks.
First she bombs at the last Democratic presidential debate, showing how preternaturally incapable she is of taking a position, and reminding everybody that "Evasive" is her God-given middle name.
When the fallout for her campaign begins, she tries on a variety of excuses for her poor performance.
First, the Clinton Ladies Intervention Team blames the moderator, Tim Russert.
Then, they attack her Democratic opponents for ganging up on her.
Next, they claim she was a victim because she is a woman.
Then, they trot out the Ball and Chain, Bill, with the "swiftboat" defense.
Next, they send the future First Spouse to fall on his very active sword for her over the failure of health care reform — fourteen years after the fact. (This particular husbandly defense seemed eerily reminiscent of his spirited 1992 slam of former California Governor Jerry Brown, who dared to question Hillary’s actions: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You’re not worthy being on the same platform as my wife.")
These pitiful attempts to blow past her mistakes have eroded her support significantly, particularly in the earliest voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire. She’s still leading, has a ton of money and the big-time name recognition, but her poll numbers are dropping faster than Bill’s pants.
All of this has erased the notion of her inevitability. For the past year, it was simply assumed that she’d be the nominee. The Clinton Express was leaving the station, and you’d better be aboard, if you knew what was good for you.
Now, the train hasn’t just stopped; it’s going in reverse. And that’s made it safe for Senators Barack Obama and John Edwards to attack her. And THAT has had the effect of feeding into this downward cycle. Even in her "adoptive" state of New York, yes, she’s polling ahead of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but she’s not even cracking 50% support.
This dramatic fumble calls to mind the example of Senator Edmund Muskie. He was the Democratic "It" Boy of 1972. He was considered invincible for the nomination. And then he went tearfully before television cameras to complain…about attacks on his wife. From that point on, Muskie fell apart. Once he faltered, it opened up all kinds of questions about his behavior and temperament that no one had thought about before. It shook his campaign, and then it was over. Once the air of inevitability shatters, it’s very difficult to regain your footing and nearly impossible to be in that commanding position again.
Just last weekend, at the Iowa "Jefferson-Jackson" Day dinner, Obama said, "The same old Washington textbook campaigns just won’t do it in this election…Not answering questions because we’re afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do it…Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we’re worried what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won’t do it.’ It’s one thing for the Daily Telegraph’s Toby Harnden to write that Hillary is a "…calculating and over-managed candidate." But it’s quite another for the left-wing press closer to home to join in the anti-Rodham revelry.
The most remarkable development over the past two weeks is that the harshest attacks on her have come not from conservatives but from the liberals. While she’s been trying to fend off criticism from Obama and Edwards, she’s had to fight a rearguard attack from the elite liberal media.
In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd launched a bitingly sarcastic broadside against her. Times colleague and traditional liberal Bob Herbert followed suit, writing about the intense ambivalence many women feel about voting for her. Garry Trudeau has been just as relentlessly scathing in Doonesbury, the most liberal of liberal political cartoons. And National Public Radio — right up there with the New York Times as a mouthpiece for liberal elitism — slammed her for opportunism and insincerity.
This is the pantheon of left-wing press.
The Clinton Ladies Intervention Team did not anticipate having to fend them off too. Polls slipping, negative coverage from liberals she had just assumed would put a halo over her head in every piece…This is a recipe for freefall.
In its panic, the Hillary Strike Force made another mistake: they admitted to planting (at least) two questions at recent campaign rallies. They denied that the Candidate knew anything about it, of course, and they promised that it wouldn’t happen again.
Question: where is the old, familiar Hillary "outrage?" She was constantly "outraged" at President Bush for keeping "incompetent" people around. But Gonzales is gone from Justice and Brownie is gone from FEMA (as are the folks who orchestrated that asinine phony press conference during the California wildfires). And yet, Senator, the people who planted those questions are still working for your campaign, and you don’t seem so "outraged."
Their confidence rattled, the ladies of Hillaryland are now piling up errors with compounding interest. Bill’s Magic Touch seems to have evaporated. Their usually dependable tactics aren’t working. And the Candidate seems to have lost the instinct of the Queen Bee.