Hillary Clinton's Achilles' heel?

Hillary Clinton: Trust vs. leadership
Hillary Clinton: Trust vs. leadership

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    Hillary Clinton: Trust vs. leadership

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Hillary Clinton: Trust vs. leadership 02:46

Story highlights

  • Gloria Borger: Hillary Clinton is in enviable position of having strong Democratic backing
  • Borger says polls reveal a weakness -- many Americans don't find Clinton trustworthy

(CNN)So here we are, 18 months until the next presidential election, and the situation is this: Republicans are behaving like Democrats, and Democrats are acting like a bunch of Republicans.

In Hillary Clinton, the Democrats have a presumptive nominee, almost an incumbent, an establishment candidate. The party overwhelmingly applauds her ascension. Republicans, meantime, are looking at a field of more than a dozen candidates, of all political theologies, ready to duke it out.
Gloria Borger
More than three-quarters of Democrats love Clinton, willing to reach back a political generation to nominate her. Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have four or five candidates they could live happily with -- of all generations, from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio.
    Isn't it usually the Republicans who revert to the establishment candidate? Um, yes. But not this time, or at least not this early.
    That may be the reason that some Democrats profess to feeling a bit antsy about their new predicament. They understand their acclaim for candidate Clinton is not universal by any means. They understand that at this point, Clinton is predictably flying at a lower altitude in the polls than she did when she was secretary of state. She's now a politician; ipso facto, her polls go down.
    But there's something else going on that makes some Democrats, well, uncomfortable. And it's not just that the number of people with a negative view of Clinton has jumped six points in the last month, according to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Again, part of that is natural gravity, and to be expected.
    What's more troubling is the haunting sense of déjà vu when it comes to the other numbers -- the ones about honesty and being straightforward. This NBC/WSJ poll showed that only one-quarter of voters say Clinton has those attributes, and that's down from 38% a year ago -- which wasn't fabulous to begin with. Even though the new CBS News/New York Times poll found a slight rebound in her favor regarding whether she's honest, the public is still split on the matter. And when you run for president, trust is not a small matter.
    Sure, young voters don't care about the drama of the previous Clinton White House years. And young women, in particular, love Hillary Clinton. But the trust numbers are a real issue. Not because it's a primary problem, because of course it isn't. Right now, nothing has destabilized her support inside the Democratic Party. "But this could be a general election problem," says one Democratic strategist. "It defies logic and experience and evidence to refuse to believe that recent controversies have not accelerated this lack of trust issue."
    Whether it's emails or the Clinton Foundation or the Scooby-Doo van, a kind of negative dynamic is in its nascent stage. Young, but there. And Clinton needs to convince people it's a temporary downdraft, that she is no caricature.
    How to do it? Campaign brains can figure out what to do because here's what doesn't work: rope-a-dope or hastily called press conferences at the United Nations.
    Because, like it or not, Clinton is, in many ways, already in a general election campaign. The other team is ganging up against her -- and she doesn't seem to crack 50% against most of them. But it's also true that her lines going down have not crossed any Republican lines heading up. She needs to keep it that way.
    So talk. Take on the charges against the Clinton Foundation. Or the emails. Bill Clinton defending you -- and himself -- clearly isn't the answer. Hillary Clinton may not yet have a big-time opponent, but she needs to start running like she does.
    In the Democratic Party, even the establishment candidate has to run like a truth-telling renegade, speaking truth to power. Even when you seem to have all the power yourself.