Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton challenged Bernie Sanders's stance on gun control during a campaign event in Amers, Iowa on Jan. 12. (Reuters)

At some point, you cannot blame the national mood or a poor staff or a brilliant opponent for Hillary Clinton’s campaign woes. The latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll shows that Clinton, who once led Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by double digits, is only 2 points ahead of Sanders. Clinton is down 9 points since the DMR/Bloomberg’s December 2015 poll. That means the race is within the margin of error (4.4 percent).

Clinton responds as she usually does — poorly. Her attack on Sanders from the left on guns makes sense. She actually has his record to work with, on an issue about which the base is engaged. Her attack over health care makes no sense whatsoever. Clinton is dinging Sanders for a universal health-care plan that she says would require a big tax hike. Huh? This is Sanders, the darling of the left, who has always wanted true, single-payer health care. The idea that Sanders — “the democratic socialist” — would be coming up with a dastardly plan to undermine or take away universal health care, from the left’s perspective, is inconceivable.

Left-wing Salon has this to say:

After years of the right wing trying one scheme after another to take away Obamacare, it jars the senses to watch Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton accuse her primary rival, Bernie Sanders, of wanting to take away Obamacare. Sanders, she now insists, would do so from the left by instituting a program — single-payer healthcare — that would be more progressive than the Affordable Care Act.

It did not help that the campaign sent out the wooden Chelsea Clinton to attack Sanders. (“It’s a typical Clinton campaign move. Have a bad week at the polls? Overreact with a terrible, transparent attack that anyone with an IQ north of negative can see through. The fact that this move might alienate the Sanders supporters she’ll need later on if she wins the nomination does not seem to enter the calculation.”)

Over at U.S. News & World Report, Clinton elicits more hisses and boos. “A single-payer system, like it does in many other countries, would cover everybody, period. To say otherwise is either willfully misunderstanding how it would work or simple scaremongering. . . . [S]he’s sliming Sanders with the accusation that he wants to take health insurance away from people. It’s a garbage attack, and makes even less sense considering that she’s going to need Sanders’ supporters come November when she (as is still very likely) becomes the Democratic nominee. (Democrats, incidentally, really like single-payer, as do independents.)”

The Nation, in endorsing Sanders, sounds like right-wing talk show hosts whining about establishment Republicans:

[T]he limits of a Clinton presidency are clear. Her talk of seeking common ground with Republicans and making deals to “get things done” in Washington will not bring the change that is so desperately needed. . . .  She rejects single-payer healthcare and refuses to consider breaking up the big banks. We also fear that she might accept a budgetary “grand bargain” with the Republicans that would lock in austerity for decades to come.

In short, at a time the left — like the right — wants to fight against compromise and corruption, Clinton is fighting the beloved Sanders in just the same terms the GOP would.

It’s baffling why she thinks this would help when she is at risk now of losing both Iowa and New Hampshire. Her loyalists say it’s good for her to get a challenge in the primary. In theory that is right, but if it comes at the expense of further depressing the left-wing base (which hasn’t liked the Clintons for years), it’s a really bad thing.

So we come back to Hillary Clinton, the candidate. At some point, even Democrats might concede she is unlikable, regarded as dishonest and untrustworthy and, to boot, politically tone-deaf. In the Clinton marriage, Bill got all the political talent, it seems. One can speculate that as the Clinton circle got smaller out of fear and paranoia, the number of people willing to level with her shrank dramatically or disappeared altogether. When she has a dumb idea or gets panicked and starts flailing away — as she did in 2008 — it appears there is no one to stop her. Left to her own devices, she’s a poor candidate. Maybe VP Joe Biden should have gotten in after all.