The laughter has yet to turn to tears, but the applause for Hillary Clinton is beginning to sound a little thinner than it did only yesterday.
The lady may still be the way to bet, but only the foolish would throw in the deed to the farm. Hillary has got to be feeling little butterflies in the pit of her tummy. Bubba, too. She has been here before.
"Inevitable nominees" always run into rough weather when the game gets going, and the 2016 campaign is about to get going. We must enjoy the day around the Thanksgiving table and of the coming of the season of the Christ child. Snarling and sniping begin soon.
The public opinion polls have to be unnerving for the Clintons, and so are the numbers from the actual polls, as revealed by the exit polls from Nov. 4. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll taken in September showed that Mrs. Clinton's favorability number is down to 43 percent after a steep dive and down from 59 percent when the buzz about Hillary as inevitable was first getting cranked up years ago.
The recent exit polls are pregnant with implausibility. Considerably fewer than a majority of November voters — only 43 percent — said she would make a good president. Even more alarming, when she was matched against "a Republican candidate," she lost, 40 percent to 34 percent. After that, President Obama, to whom she is closely linked, like it or not (and you can bet she doesn't like it), opened his post-midterm rant against the Republicans, shunning prospects of compromise, and finally revealing his long-awaited amnesty scheme. That won't help her, either.
"As a candidate," Douglas Schoen and Patrick Caddell, onetime pollsters for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, observe in The Wall Street Journal: "Mrs. Clinton would likely inherit a damaged party, and as a former member of his administration, she would struggle with the consequences of Mr. Obama's go-it-alone governance."
The Clintons got a particularly bitter taste of what probably lies ahead when they went back to Arkansas to campaign for Democratic candidates for governor and Congress. All were buried under a Republican landslide. Bubba felt particularly burned because he imagined that he had lost none of his mojo at home, and he was campaigning for candidates rightly regarded as the best the Democrats could find.
"Everyone likes Bill," says one Democratic big mule, "and nobody but a few feminists likes Hillary. But everyone is a little bit bored with both of them." Not even the thrill of seeing another president from Arkansas, if only a synthetic favorite daughter-by-marriage, relieves the boredom. If the Clinton magic no longer works there, it might not work anywhere.
Hillary has none of the charm and wit of Bubba, rascal that he is, and none of his sure-footed skill at campaigning. Hillary sometimes mistakes her protective bubble for the big world outside. It's difficult to imagine Bubba saying, as Hillary did campaigning for a loser in Massachusetts, "Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs." Maybe they didn't offer a course in Economics 101 at Wellesley College, but only an apprentice would say something so carelessly revealing. She should have learned something about corporations and jobs when she was on the board of directors at Wal-Mart.
Her remark was of a piece with her famous scorn of critics of whatever she was doing, or not doing, a year after the deadly siege of the American legation in Benghazi: "What difference at this point does it make?"
Hillary's second presidential campaign, if it can yet be called that, looks plausible as long as nobody is running against her. She's an experienced inevitable president, but when someone challenges her inevitability it all dissolves. Soon a field will challenge the inevitable president. When challengers on the left — Elizabeth Warren, Jim Webb, maybe even Uncle Joe Biden — begin saying not-so-nice things about her, the aura is likely to dissolve quickly.
"She is smart, tough and savvy and has a capacity to learn from failure and adjust," says Yuval Levin, author and editor of National Affairs quarterly. But "people are bored with her. She is a dull, grating, inauthentic, over-eager, insipid elitist with ideological blinders yet no particular vision and is likely to be reduced to running on a dubious promise of experience and competence while faking idealism and hope." It's just like an intellectual to offer such a wishy-washy appraisal, but we take Mr. Levin's point.
Only yesterday everyone was measuring the Grand Old Party for a shroud. Maybe the undertaker could use it to dispatch the Clinton dreams of dynasty. Shrouds are never wasted.