After spending much of the last two weeks criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposed “gaffes” about her wealth and claiming she's increasingly out of touch with voters thanks to the combined earnings of herself and her husband, Beltway pundits are confronted with a new poll that shows that despite days worth of media attacks on Clinton's money comments, a clear majority think the former secretary of state relates to “average Americans” and the problems they face.
The findings from an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey forcefully debunk the punditry's conventional wisdom that by being "rusty" while discussing her wealth during her recent book tour, Clinton inflicted potentially deep damage to her possible presidential run by being so "out of touch."
The recent wealth coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments taken from hours worth of long-form interviews and spinning then in the most unappealing way, and by claiming Clinton's word choice and “tone” is all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote about money last week to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)
To date though, voters don't seem to mind when Hillary Clinton talks about money.
Nonetheless as the Washington Post's Dan Balz noted, Clinton's “comments about being ”dead broke" upon leaving the White House and not being among the “truly well off” today have triggered an avalanche of coverage raising questions about whether she has lost touch with the lives of ordinary Americans."
Just yesterday, Balz's colleague Ruth Marcus detailed what she called “Hillary Clinton's money woes,” and warned the former first lady that the problem might get “worse” because she risks being viewed by voters as “greedy,” “defensive,” “whiny,” and “out of touch.”
How was Marcus so sure that voters would deeply resent the Clintons' wealth if Hillary ran for president? Or specifically, that they'd resent how she talked about her wealth. Did Marcus cite polling? Did she interview voters? No, she just knew. Or she thought she knew.
According to the new NBC/WSJ poll, none of Marcus' characterizations are accurate.
And that's why the red flag of the wealth coverage was always the question of whether voters were as deeply offended by Clinton's wealth as the Beltway press is. (MSNBC's Chuck Todd recently dismissed the Clintons' earnings from giving speeches by insisting, “It's not like they have acquired their wealth from hard work.”)
So many players in the Beltway punditry game were sure the Clinton riches would pose a major electoral problem because everyone was sure voters would resent their wealth, or resent Hillary's comments. But like Marcus, almost none of them bothered to take the public temperature. Instead, they simply presented the claim, first floated by Republicans, as fact.
“Her struggles to answer the money question exposed a potential vulnerability for her 2016 bid,” Todd reported yesterday. “Clinton's most recent attempt at clarifying the remark has only raised more eyebrows and fueled more questions about the likely presidential candidate's ability to relate to [the] average American,” announced ABC News.
“Other presidents came from family money, yet managed to convey a sense of kinship with ordinary Americans,” the Wall Street Journal's Peter Nicholas wrote, implying Hillary has not managed to make that connection.
A Daily Beast writer over the weekend actually suggested Hillary might not be a "viable candidate" if she ran against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Sen. Ted Cruz, because her wealth could sink her campaign if those Republican men end up being seen as “more representative of America's little guy.” (Virtually every poll taken this year shows Hillary comfortably ahead of both Christie and Cruz in hypothetical 2016 match-ups.)
Pundits have been certain: Clinton's comments about wealth had led to the “Mitt Romneyification of Hillary Clinton.” In other words, she had suddenly become a wealthy out-of-touch scion who can't relate to voters. She's having a hard time appearing "authentic."
Often left out of that comparison is the fact that Romney ran for president in 2016 as an extremely wealthy businessman who wanted to slash taxes for the very rich, cut back on social services for the needy, and championed big business at nearly every turn. He also ran while mocking the “47 percent” of Americans who, in Romney's famous words, “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Clinton, by contrast, often backs left-leaning policies that run counter to the interests of her own personal wealth. She also champions the “little guy” by supporting an increased minimum wage and affordable health care for all Americans. Most pundits omit that from their Hillary denunciations, but voters seem to notice that Democrats stick up for the middle class.
Also, it's not like there wasn't previous polling that journalists could have pointed to in order to gauge voters' feelings about Clinton and her connection for everyday Americans.
Earlier this month, a Washington Post poll asked if Clinton “does or does not understand the problems of people like you.” Fifty-five percent said she did. The numbers were even more robust when you set aside self-identified “conservatives” who are very unlikely to ever vote for her: Fifty-seven percent of “moderates” think Hillary understands the problems of people like them, as do 78 percent of “liberals.” (That number surges to 85 percent of “Democrats.”) And based on an earlier NBC/WSJ poll, “Just 7 percent of self-identified Democrats say they have a negative view of her.”
For weeks, the Beltway press has eagerly and nearly universally echoed the GOP talking point that Hillary Clinton's too rich to connect with voters. The new NBC/WSJ poll thoroughly debunks that claim. Will pundits now acknowledge the hole in their story or stick to their preferred telling?