Hillary: The new Teflon Clinton

Here's a sentence you never thought you'd read: Hillary Clinton has become politically untouchable.


Yes, the woman whose husband -- aka the 42nd president of the United States -- made a political name for himself by weathering (and prospering) in circumstances that would have felled most ordinary politicians has now become the Teflon public figure in the family.

In the new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 58 percent of those tested have a positive impression of Clinton (including 34 percent who are "very" positive) while just 28 percent view her negatively. That's close to Clinton's all-time high ratings in the NBC-WSJ poll -- 59 positive/22 negative in February 2009 -- and consistent across all sorts of subgroups.

Nearly nine in ten (87 percent) Democrats view Clinton positively as do 52 percent of political independents. Heck one in four self-identified Republicans regard her favorably!

Those numbers come at a time when the State Department, which Clinton heads, has come under considerable scrutiny for its handling of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens dead this fall.

That scrutiny has been directed not at Clinton, however, but rather at U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice -- due to her appearance on a series of Sunday talk shows soon after the incident in which she insisted the attack was not a pre-planned act of terror, an assertion that turned out to be incorrect. 

Clinton is scheduled to testify before Congress about Benghazi next week, an appearance that could complicate her ability to float above the controversy somewhat. But, if past is prologue, it's likely that Clinton's sterling numbers won't be negatively affected by her testimony.

"In the last 3 years she has grown extremely comfortable and happy with where and who she is," said one longtime Clinton loyalist granted anonymity to speak candidly. "Also, Americans have grown comfortable with her."

Then the Clinton ally offered what is (and will continue to be) the $10,000 question as it relates to Hillary's current untouchable status: "Does all that go away as soon as she announces she is running? I don't know."

No one does.

A look back at the highs and lows for Clinton in the NBC-WSJ poll suggests that the more political she becomes, the more her numbers drop.

Clinton's two lowest points in NBC-WSJ polling came March 2001 (35 positive/49 negative), which was shortly after she and her husband left the White House, and in March 2008 (37 positive/48 negative) when she was in the midst of a slug-it-out primary fight with then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Just for kicks, here's Clinton's positive/negative scores in NBC-WSJ polling going back to 2001:

It's a near certainty that if Clinton decides to run again for president in 2016, the current stratospheric ratings she has with the public will fade somewhat.

What that means -- strategically speaking -- for Clinton and her political allies is that if does decide to run, she should hold off announcing as a candidate for as long as possible, and, in so doing, preserve the untouchability (is that a word?) of her approval ratings in the process.

At the moment, Hillary Clinton is Teflon. The longer she can keep it up the better for her political future.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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