Clinton's base trouble and the rise of independents

State of the 2016 Race
A column for The Hill analyzing the current state of the 2016 presidential race.

1. Last week, there were three national polls focusing on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding Hillary Clinton slams Trump for spreading 'sexist trash' about Pelosi Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign MORE's current political situation. My colleague on Fox News Channel's "Political Insiders," longtime pioneering Democratic pollster Pat Caddell, dissected The Washington Post poll, the CNN poll and the FNC poll. While each poll's sample varied and the questions were also slightly different, Caddell made some startling discoveries.

2. The big news: Clinton has begun to lose support in her base.

3. Her four base groups are: women, highly educated voters, young voters and non-whites.

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4. In all four groups, over the past two months as there are almost-daily revelations about the email server, huge speaking fees and Clinton Foundation payments, Clinton's support has declined.

5. And among young voters, it is the never-ending Benghazi investigation that is hurting Clinton the most.

6. Her "honesty and trustworthiness" and "cares about people like us" numbers are also declining among these four groups.

7. No wonder she is suddenly speaking on issues like more early voting (minorities), student loans (young voters) and women's pay equity (women voters).

8. She is desperate to staunch her bleeding.

9. The question is: With her damaged credibility, is she able now to "sell" new policy ideas — and do those previous Clinton supporters who have left her, or the current ones who are wavering, buy those "new" policies?

10. Or is she a self-damaged candidate in decline with no means to arrest that decline?

11. A corollary to this: Clinton rose on her own in 2000 as a post-Monica Lewinsky victim with tremendous sympathy from many voters. But these current scandals are her scandals — not Bill's. The "victim" label is gone, and with it is her previously impervious polling status.

12. Caddell also notes that in all three polls, the media have — yet again — missed the real story. The media did not drill into the numbers and data the way Caddell did. Thus, they are missing the real story: Clinton is in more trouble than almost anyone realizes.

13. As Caddell says, "It's a metastasizing cancer. You can see it eating through the cell walls into the base." (Here is the link to a fascinating segment of "Political Insiders" where we explain what these polls show.)

14. The other shocking statistic to emerge from these three polls — with huge potential consequences for the 2016 campaign — is the increase in self-identified independent voters. In The Washington Post poll, a shocking 52 percent are independent — obviously more than Democrats and Republicans combined! (It was in the high 40s in the other two polls.)

15. This can mean an entirely new route to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or a new combined route (one of the major party's nomination and a large share of these now-even-more-crucial independents.)

16. The problem most candidates are having is that to win either the Republican or Democratic Party nominations, you have to do and say things that turn off most of these independents. Yet, you then need these same independents to win.

17. And then to govern, you need some semblance of party loyalty in Congress — but these very same independents decry the partisanship that can engender.

18. All of this may indeed portend a shuffling of our two major parties: The GOP may be the Whigs of the 1850s and soon to morph into some new party that can recapture many of those independents who are turned off by the current gridlock and extremism.

19. And that brings us to the elephant in the room: a possible third-party candidate in 2016 — a better version of Ross Perot.

20. Could this "new" candidate come along — running against both major parties and the corrupt leadership class — and actually win 270 electoral votes (especially with all the obstacles that the two parties have set up to keep him or her off the ballot: access, petitions, money, etc.)?

21. That is the most compelling question in politics today, and will be addressed frequently in this space in upcoming columns.

LeBoutillier is a former Republican congressman from New York and is the co-host of "Political Insiders" on Fox News Channel, Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. He writes semi-regular pieces in the Contributors section on the "State of the 2016 Race."