Philip Rucker and Scott Clement sure are "Ready for Hillary." The Washington Post scribes dutifully pounded out a January 30 front-pager that furthers the Hillary-is-inevitable meme discernible throughout the liberal media. "Clinton holds big Democratic lead" thunders the print headline, with a subhead noting she enjoys "strong support in all demographics" while the "GOP field shows no clear front-runner."
Nowhere in their 25-paragraph story was the term "Benghazi" used -- indeed, it was also not referenced in the Post/ABC poll, while Bridgegate was -- although clearly it is the former secretary of state's blackest mark on her record. By contrast, potential GOP opponent Chris Christie was depicted as critically if not mortally wounded by the bridge-lane-closure scandal, while opponents to his right were dismissed as unlikely to beat Hillary (emphasis mine):
Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a commanding 6 to 1 lead over other Democrats heading into the 2016 presidential campaign, while the Republican field is deeply divided with no clear front-runner, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Clinton trounces her potential primary rivals with 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, reinforcing a narrative of inevitability around her nomination if she runs. Vice President Biden is second with 12 percent, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) is third with 8 percent.
Although Clinton’s favorability rating has fallen since she stepped down as secretary of state a year ago, she has broad Democratic support across ideological, gender, ethnic and class lines. Her lead is the largest recorded in an early primary matchup in at least 30 years of Post-ABC polling.
The race for the Republican nomination, in contrast, is wide open, with six prospective candidates registering 10 percent to 20 percent support. No candidate has broad backing from both tea party activists and mainline Republicans, signaling potential fissures when the GOP picks a standard-bearer in 2016.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was at or near the top of the Republican field in many public opinion surveys last year, appears to have suffered politically from the bridge-traffic scandal engulfing his administration.
The new survey puts Christie in third place — with the support of 13 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — behind Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) with 20 percent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 18 percent. The rest of the scattered pack includes Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who are at 12, 11 and 10 percent, respectively.
Among strong backers of the tea party — who make up about one-fifth of the Republicans polled — Cruz has a big lead, with 28 percent, followed by Ryan, at 18 percent. But Cruz, an iconoclastic freshman senator who rose to prominence during last fall’s partial government shutdown, registers just 4 percent among those who oppose or have no opinion of the tea party.
Christie is weakest among the strong tea party set, winning 6 percent of that group, but he has the backing of 15 percent of other Republicans. Bush’s base of support comes from self-identified Republicans, while Ryan’s strength comes from white evangelical Protestants, young voters and less conservative wings of the party. Rubio does particularly well among Republicans with college degrees.
Christie has benefited from the perception that he has unique appeal among independents and some Democrats, a reputation the governor burnished with his 2013 reelection in his strongly Democratic state.
But that image has been tarnished, the survey finds. More Democrats now view Christie unfavorably than favorably, with independents divided. Republicans, meanwhile, have a lukewarm opinion, with 43 percent viewing him favorably and 33 percent unfavorably. Overall, 35 percent of Americans see him favorably and 40 percent unfavorably.
Christie’s administration is under investigation for a plot last fall to shut down local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge and cause four days of gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J., in an act of apparent political retribution against a Democratic mayor.
Among the public, 46 percent say they consider the bridge episode a “sign of broader problems” with Christie’s leadership, while 43 percent say they think it was an “isolated incident.”
In a theoretical head-to-head general-election matchup, Clinton leads Christie among registered voters, 53 percent to 41 percent. This is a far larger deficit than Republicans had in the popular vote in the past two presidential elections. In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by 51 percent to 47 percent, and he beat John McCain by 53 percent to 46 percent in 2008.
Although Clinton was the front-runner heading into the 2008 primary season, she barely tipped over 50 percent in two Post-ABC surveys. Clinton’s standing heading into the 2016 Democratic primaries is considerably stronger. The poll shows her with remarkable strength across demographic groups. She wins nearly three-quarters of men and women, whites and nonwhites, young and old, as well as lower- and higher- income voters.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 20-23 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including interviews on conventional telephones and with cellphone-only respondents. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Yes, Mrs. Clinton may look inevitable now, certainly for nomination at least, but her general election prospects are much more cloudy, even if the snapshot picture of the electorate now suggests otherwise. Simply put, there's plenty of time for Clinton to be defined negatively by her Republican opponent and for plenty of other environmental factors to be a drag on the Democrat, including the ongoing failures of ObamaCare and a general Obama-fatigue in the electorate that pushes independent voters more squarely into the Republican camp.
What's more, as my colleague Tim Graham reminded me, in December 2006 the Post was decidedly not wedded to the cult of Hillary inevitability, taking pains to remind readers all the sort of caveats about the 2008 race that they are now dropping by the wayside for 2016 (emphasis mine):
These early poll results largely reflect name identification among the field of candidates, which includes several political celebrities and many others who remain generally unknown to people outside their states. As a result, hypothetical matchups are often poor predictors of what will happen once the primary and caucus season arrives in early 2008, and as voters learn more about where candidates stand on important issues.
But the findings provide early clues to the shape of the presidential nomination battles while raising questions that will be answered only by months of campaigning, debates, speeches and town hall meetings.
The poll underscores, for example, the degree to which the Republican field is dominated at this stage by two candidates who have never been the darlings of the GOP's conservative base, which is very influential in the party's primaries. McCain warred with conservatives -- particularly evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- when he ran in 2000, though he and Falwell have patched things up. Giuliani enjoys popular support among Republicans, although he supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.
On the Democratic side, Obama has made a quick and favorable impression but is still generally unknown and certainly not the only potentially significant rival to Clinton, should both formally enter the race.
Among Democrats, Clinton leads the field with 39 percent, followed by Obama at 17 percent, Edwards at 12 percent, former vice president Al Gore at 10 percent and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the party's 2004 nominee, at 7 percent. No other Democrat received more than 2 percent.
When those surveyed were asked their second choice, Clinton's advantage became even more evident. She is the first or second choice of 60 percent of those surveyed, with Obama second at 33 percent.
Another angle completely missing from this today's story is the perspective that Democrats have an incredibly shallow bench. The closest competitor Clinton has is the vice president, and the third-place candidate is Elizabeth Warren, a virtual unknown outside of the deep blue Northeast but someone who truly is a darling of the party's liberal base, particularly the populist Howard Dean wing that detests Wall Street and sympathizes with the moribund Occupy movement. By contrast, there are numerous Republican governors and senators who are on the radar for GOP voters, suggesting a wealth of options and a wealth of leaders. Clinton may have the air of inevitability, but according there are no Democratic governors and just one Democratic senator -- and a freshman senator at that -- who are on the radar screen.
If Clinton were a Republican, it's likely the liberal media would explore that angle: Why is the Republican bench so lacking in prospective challengers? "Where is the robust competition of ideas within the Republican Party," they might ask, bewailing the Republican tradition of letting the next guy in line march to the nomination.