Is Hillary Clinton is Too Polarizing?

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes part in a Center for American Progress roundtable discussion on "Expanding Opportunities in America's Urban Areas" in Washington.

Some of Hillary Clinton’s liberal or Democratic opponents worry that she is too polarizing and her favorability ratings too low for her to be a good general election candidate. I felt the same way in 2008 when I cast my primary vote for Barack Obama. I wanted someone who would help bridge the divide in American politics. But if I’ve learned anything over the past seven years, it’s that the Republican Party will do or say just about anything to take down a Democratic president — just look at how “polarizing” President Obama is these days. What most folks seem to forget is that Hillary’s favorability ratings were in the stratosphere almost immediately after she lost the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008. They remained high during her entire tenure in the State Department – far higher than Obama’s.

Republicans were remarkably effusive in their praise of Hillary during her time at State. Florida Republican Marco Rubio told Hillary “I have respect for the hard work & service that you’ve put in on behalf of our country.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said Hillary Clinton is a “very, very capable public servant. Great Secretary of State, First Lady.” Senator John McCain noted Hillary is “admired and respected around the world. She and I have been friends for many years.” Perhaps most impressive are remarks from former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who said, “I have to say she’s a very impressive public servant. I haven’t been around too many people as professional, as well-briefed, as good with people at all levels of life.”

So what happened between January 2013, when Hillary stepped down from her job at State, and now? She decided to run for President. In American politics, the de facto beginning of a presidential election is immediately after another one ends. After Barack Obama was reelected in 2012, Republicans promptly went to work to damage Hillary’s reputation and weaken her for the 2016 election. Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy disclosed in October 2015 how Republicans successfully brought down Hillary’s stellar approval ratings:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, and what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.” Another Republican Congressmen admitted as much: Richard Hanna (R-NY) told a New York radio station that “I think that there was a big part of this [Benghazi] investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.” Conservative television personality Bill O’Reilly told his viewers that “of course the Benghazi thing is political… If you think those guys, those Republicans on that panel don’t want to bring down Hillary Clinton, you’re six years old. Because they do. So it is political.” The Benghazi investigation is clearly not about GOP concern for diplomatic security, given that there were zero Congressional investigations into the 13 diplomatic facilities that were attacked during George W. Bush’s tenure.

As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted, between Hillary’s experience as a lawyer at the Children’s Defense Fund, her time as First Lady and U.S. Senator, as well as her tenure as Secretary of State, “[Hillary] would be the best prepared to be president of anybody that we’ve had in a very, very long time.” The data show that polls are fleeting. Bernie Sanders’ poll numbers would undoubtedly be much worse today had he been in the national spotlight (and in Republicans’ sights) for the three decades Hillary Clinton has been in the limelight. Hillary’s polarizing poll numbers should not dissuade liberals or Democrats from supporting her in the primary.

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