Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama publicly buried the hatchet Thursday and teamed up to attack Republican Donald Trump — but their joint appearance served as a reminder of just how unpopular the Clintons have become at a time when both President Obama and Mrs. Obama are enjoying some of their highest approval ratings.
Should Mrs. Clinton win the Nov. 8 election, she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will enter the White House for the second time amid deep public reservations about them. Polls have shown that Mr. Clinton’s favorability rating has dropped throughout the course of the 2016 campaign, while Mrs. Clinton also remains unpopular and is widely viewed as dishonest and untrustworthy.
At the same time, Mr. Obama is as popular as he’s been in years. A CNN/ORC poll released Thursday puts the president’s approval rating at 55 percent, a second-term high. Mrs. Obama, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by nearly two-thirds of Americans, according to a Gallup survey released two months ago.
It’s no surprise, then, that Mrs. Clinton continues tying herself to the Obamas and has made continuing many of the president’s policies a central component of her own campaign.
At a campaign rally in North Carolina on Thursday, Mrs. Clinton spent much of her speech complimenting Mrs. Obama, even going so far as to promise to maintain the first lady’s White House vegetable garden if elected president. She also called the first lady one of the most inspiring figures in America.
“Just by being herself every day, never missing an opportunity to honor her parents for the hard work and sacrifice that set her on her way, she has shown every little girl and boy in America that there are no limits to what they can achieve if they work hard and do right and believe in themselves,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Seriously, is there anyone more inspiring than Michelle Obama?”
Mrs. Obama also heaped praise on the former secretary of state and even addressed the persistent notion, dating back to 2008’s bitter Democratic primary battle, that the two women do not like each other.
“If people wonder, yes, Hillary Clinton is my friend,” the first lady said during her first appearance alongside Mrs. Clinton. “She has been a friend to me and Barack and Malia and Sasha, and Bill and Chelsea have been embracing and supportive from the very day my husband took the oath of office. So, I am grateful for Hillary, for the leadership, for her courage, and for what she is going to do for this country. It’s going to be good.”
The Obamas have become some of Mrs. Clinton’s strongest surrogates on the campaign trail, helping to rally Democrats behind a candidate they’re not especially enthusiastic about supporting.
But should she win the presidency, Mrs. Clinton’s low favorable ratings give her little room for error in the White House, and even Democratic voters could turn on her quickly at the first sign of trouble, according to Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.
“People at the end of the day, if they don’t like you, even if they like what you’re doing, they don’t forget that they don’t like you,” Mr. Engel said. “She might see her popularity increase if she does well, but if she doesn’t do well, it might erode very quickly.”
Polls show both Clintons are much less popular than the Obamas. Over just the past month, Mr. Clinton’s favorable rating has dropped by 50 percent to 45 percent, according to Morning Consult polling released this week. Mrs. Clinton’s favorable rating has remained largely flat in recent months and now stands at 43 percent, according to the Morning Consult survey.
Despite those figures, Mrs. Clinton remains ahead of Mr. Trump in virtually all polls, a reminder that the Republican nominee is equally, if not more, unpopular than the former secretary of state.
Whatever disagreements may have existed in the past, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Obama have found common ground in blasting the Republican nominee and trying to cobble together a Democratic coalition capable of defeating him.
“This candidate calls on us to turn against each other, to build walls, to be afraid,” Mrs. Obama said of Mr. Trump. “And then there’s Hillary’s vision for this country. … A vision of a nation that is powerful and vibrant and strong, big enough to have a place for all of us, a nation where we each have something very special to contribute.”