The new Washington-Post ABC News poll contains lots of bad news for Hillary Clinton. She's lost more than 20 points in a hypothetical Democratic primary ballot since July and now finds herself in a statistical dead heat with Donald Trump -- not a typo -- in a potential general election matchup.
Those top-line numbers, though, aren't the cause of Clinton's problems; they're the effect. The cause is buried deeper in the poll in a trio of questions about the private e-mail server Clinton used as secretary of state.
1. Just 1 in 3 registered voters approve of how Clinton has handled the issue, while 55 percent of voters do not.
2. Just 32 percent of registered voters think Clinton "stayed within government regulations" in the establishment and use of a private server, while 51 percent believe she broke those regulations.
3. Thirty-four percent of those polled say Clinton has "honestly disclosed" the facts about her e-mail usage, while 54 percent believe she has "tried to cover up the facts."
On top of all that, add this:
4. Just 35 percent of registered voters believe that the words "honest" and "trustworthy" describe Clinton, while 56 percent say they do not.
That number has been in steady decline since the revelations about Clinton's server came to light in the spring; she was at 41 percent on the honest/trustworthy question in a May WaPo-ABC poll, and back in June 2014 she was at 53 percent!
Scan those numbers and you quickly grasp why last week Clinton decided to offer an unequivocal apology for her decision to set up a private e-mail server after months of insisting no apology was necessary. Legally speaking, she might have been right, but politically it's clear just how much damage the issue has already done to Clinton.
Into this atmosphere land two major news stories about the server: The first, first reported by the Washington Post, is that the tech company that handled Clinton's server says there is no evidence that it has been "wiped." That's a good and a bad thing for Clinton, since it suggests a lack of a cover-up (or what could be made to look like a cover-up) but also that, potentially, her deleted e-mails could be recovered and mined for anything that could disprove Clinton's version of events. The second story is that the Justice Department said Clinton was well within her rights as a government official to make her own determination on which e-mails on her server could be deleted as personal and non-relevant to her work as the nation's top diplomat.
Exoneration, shout her defenders! Much ado about nothing! A media-created story is debunked!
Except, not really. The fact that she had the ability and right to delete e-mails was never really in question. At issue is the process by which she did it -- and who got to make the final calls on what got sent to the State Department and what didn't. Yes, the way Clinton went about it was within her rights. But Clinton is not just any government official or even any secretary of state. She is someone who is -- still -- the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. As such, she is held to a different standard than someone who, well, isn't the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee for president.
And, remember, Clinton deleted more total e-mails than she turned over to State.
The problem for Clinton is that the public -- as evidenced by that trio of poll questions -- already believes that there is something (or somethings) not totally above board with how she has handled this e-mail issue. When just one in three voters believe you are (a) honest and trustworthy (b) honestly disclosing the facts about the server and (c) staying within government regulations in regards the server, you have a major, major problem on your hands.
Add to that the mandated monthly release of tranches of Clinton State Department e-mails, and it's hard to imagine how the story goes away (or gets better) unless Clinton takes more decisive action. A speech in which she fully explains her actions, expresses contrition (again) and tries to contextualize it all might be the best solution to what has now become a major impediment to Clinton's hopes of being elected president a year from November.