Many observers in the political-news media establishment thought Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a winning performance at Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
It certainly was a performance. We have yet to see whether it will be a winning one.
The reason this Democratic debate offered any drama at all, in a year when the Democratic frontrunner was presumed to have cleared the field, is that the Clinton campaign is clearly in significant trouble. She is lagging in some state polls behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate who, when he announced, was considered to be among the least plausible nominees the party could find.
Part of the reason for Mr. Sanders’ success is undoubtedly his ideological appeal to the hard-left of the Democratic Party. But Hillary’s collapse likely has much more to do with the fact that she keeps lying, and that she keeps getting caught, than it does with Bernie’s charm.
In a recent Quinnipiac poll, the word most mentioned by respondents in association with Hillary Clinton was “liar.” The runners-up were “dishonest” and “untrustworthy” — offered by a combined 394 people. The next most common term, “experience,” was offered by 82.
Now Hillary’s solution to nearly her lowest favorability ratings in two decades of public life is to lie some more.
She was asked at the debate why she now opposes a trade deal that she heralded as “the gold standard” when she was secretary of State. She replied that she’d said she “hoped” it would be the gold standard. In truth, she had added no such qualifications.
Secretary Clinton said that after “looking at” the final deal last week, “it didn’t meet [her] standards.” At the White House press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked spokesman Josh Earnest, “Is it possible that she’s actually looked at it? Because I thought it hadn’t been posted or made public yet.”
“Yeah, I noticed that too,” Mr. Earnest smirked, before confirming that the text has not yet been released.
Asked why Democrats should embrace an insider for president, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state said that she “can’t think of anything more of an outsider than electing the first woman president.” In 2008, of course, she told Democrats they should support her instead of Barack Obama because she was an insider who knew how to get things done.
The Washington and media elites apparently accept that this dishonesty is how the game is played, as long as Hillary plays it well enough. (And as long as it’s only Democrats who play it. When Carly Fiorina told the truth about Planned Parenthood in the most recent Republican debate, of course, she was slanderously accused of dishonesty.)
Thankfully, the American people are far less cynical than the Washington news media establishment. Much of the reason outsiders like Donald Trump and Mr. Sanders are having success this year is that voters are sick of the lying and the cynicism.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is betting she can turn that tide around with more dishonesty and more spin. Maybe she can. But she risks accelerating it instead — and judging by the mood of the country, that’s perhaps the most likely outcome.