When is traveling on a Lear jet an indignity? When there’s a Gulfstream available and your last name is Clinton. One of the more revealing emails involving then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently released by the State Department came from top aide Huma Abedin on July 2, 2009. “The g3 is delayed till 5pm wheels up,” reported Ms. Abedin. “There is a lear available at 2pm with 6 seats. Do u want to just leave at 5?”
For ordinary folks: A “g3” is a Gulfstream III private jet that costs $40 million new and is roomier and fancier than a Lear jet, which probably sold for only $10 million.
It says something about Mrs. Clinton’s sense of entitlement that aides would assume a jet’s size and furnishings warrant a three-hour delay. This is part of the reason she is increasingly viewed as out-of-touch. A May 31 CNN/ORC poll found that more than half those contacted (52%) believe that the phrase “cares about people like you” doesn’t apply to Mrs. Clinton, up from 43% in March 2014.
To better understand what people think about Mrs. Clinton, staff from American Crossroads (a Super PAC I helped found and volunteer for) participated in focus groups in April and June with independent and undecided voters in six cities in battleground states.
The information about Mrs. Clinton that participants were shown didn’t come from a secret research file; it is widely available on video and in print. For instance, groups were presented ads that were straightforward narratives of her statements, views and controversies.
It was striking how much damage Mrs. Clinton’s own statements and actions did. “She’s not dead broke,” said a woman in one focus group, responding to the interview Mrs. Clinton gave about her and her husband’s financial condition upon leaving the White House. “And to see it coming from her own lips, you know,” responded another. “Right, when you know it’s a lie,” chimed in a third.
Such responses suggest that the Democratic presidential candidate’s difficulty in communicating that she cares about ordinary people is linked in many people’s minds to their concerns that she is not honest and trustworthy. She’s sinking there, too. The May 31 CNN/ORC poll found that 57% of respondents say the words “honest and trustworthy” don’t apply to Mrs. Clinton, up from 43% in March 2014.
This problem is more pronounced in next year’s swing states. A July 8 Vox Populi poll commissioned by Crossroads found that 42% those polled in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia say they “completely distrust” her while 14% “somewhat distrust” her.
So not only is Mrs. Clinton already well known, but attitudes toward her—mostly negative—have already formed. This will make it difficult for the candidate’s handlers to change how voters perceive her.
Mrs. Clinton has herself added to these negative views. In a July 7 interview with CNN’s Brianna Kellar, she dismissed questions about her private email server by saying: “Everything I did was permitted. There was no law. There was no regulation.” She appeared evasive, which only harms her credibility.
And she further damaged her sense of trustworthiness when she claimed in the same interview that she had never been served with a subpoena over her private emails—a claim immediately disproved by Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select on Benghazi.
Research by Crossroads also suggests that Mrs. Clinton is unlikely to benefit from the identity politics that helped President Obama in 2008. She is nowhere as deft as Mr. Obama, who understood that the less he emphasized that he would be the first African-American president, the more he benefited.
The Vox Populi battleground state poll found that 12% said it made them “much more likely” to support Mrs. Clinton because she “would make history by being the first female president,” and 19% said it would make them “somewhat more likely.” Yet 48% said it made no difference and 19% were “somewhat” or “much less likely.”
In next year’s election, it will be relatively easy to reinforce doubts about Mrs. Clinton—because she has created so many herself. The harder task for Republican hopefuls will be to show themselves in ways that capture the imagination and persuade voters, steadily and over time, that they as candidates have the qualities Americans want in their next president. These candidates should spend far more time building a compelling case for who they are and what they’ll do, since the public already knows Hillary all too well.
A version of this article appeared July 16, 2015, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Hillary’s ‘Cares About People Like You’ Problem and online at WSJ.com.