Trust Me

“If you don’t trust her, trust me.”

That is the subtext of former President Bill Clinton’s pitch to Democratic voters as he campaigns for his wife. He’s seen her poll numbers, and they aren’t pretty. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released last week, a full fifty percent of respondents view her negatively. That number has remained unmoved for years. Half the country doesn’t like her. Other polls show that even higher percentages of people don’t trust her, don’t think she’s honest, and wouldn’t vote for her under any circumstances.

This is why her Intimate Loved One preaches the Gospel of Bill wherever he goes. As the Associated Press reported recently, in one brief, ten-minute speech in Iowa — ostensibly on her behalf — he referred to himself 94 times. “Me,” “myself,” and “I” were the dead giveaways. He mentioned the candidate Herself seven times. You know, what’s-her-name. The incidental horse he’s forced to ride in order to move back in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of course, the Intimate Loved One Himself has problems in the “trust” department too, but at least he’s at 58% favorability. A lot of voters are willing to overlook his smarminess because of his natural charismatic gifts. Not so in her case. She is considered both untrustworthy AND unlikable. Not exactly a recipe for a landslide victory. Hence Bill’s wink and nod: “If you don’t trust her, trust me. I’ll be running the show, just like the old days. I know you liked the Clinton years. Suck it up, vote for her, and don’t worry about it. You’ll get me.”

Senator Barack Obama understands this scam, which is why he said last week that he’d hire Hillary’s Husband “in a second.” It was an inspired stroke of genius. He was telling Democrats that if they were thinking of voting for Hillary because they’d get Bill, not to worry! With Obama, you’ll get all of the Bill with none of the Hillary mishegas.

As much as Obama has leapt ahead, however, he’s got some trust issues of his own. Not of the personal kind: most Americans like him and think he’s a decent man of personal integrity. His problem is one of experience (which Queen Bee has relentlessly exploited). A mere two and a half years ago, Obama was a state senator from Illinois, processing dog license fees for his Chicago constituents. It’s a pretty big leap from local pol deciding where to put a new landfill and president of the United States deciding on troop levels during wartime. That’s not to say Obama can’t pull it off. But many voters are wary about entrusting the role of commander-in-chief to a freshman Senator.

The final player in the Democratic top tier is former Senator John Edwards, whose trust issues stem from his perceived hypocrisy: he professes to want to help the “poor,” as long as the “poor” isn’t him. The $400 haircuts, the mansion, and the private jets all contribute to the perception that he says one thing and does another. He’s got all of Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” with none of the amusing effervescence.

The Republican candidates may win the trust issue, but only by default. Each of the major GOP candidates has a significant trust gap of his own. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is answering questions about whether his mistress was granted undeserved police protection while he was in office and how much he knew about the corruption of one of his chief lieutenants, Bernie Kerik. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is answering questions about his Mormon faith, which still makes a lot of folks uneasy, and about his alternating positions on abortion. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is answering questions about his record of raising taxes, letting a convicted rapist out to rape and kill again, and whether his faith is too overweening. And Senator John McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts, was for the president’s amnesty plan for illegals, and spearheaded the sausage-making mess that became the “anti-torture” legislation.

The trust issue is — for the moment — underrated. But candidates ignore it at their peril. There is so much distrust of government today, many of the independent and undecided voters may decide for whom to vote for based on this criterion alone. Clinton has too much baggage to bridge the trust gap. But can any of the Republicans do better?