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The media’s Hillary bandwagon loses a wheel

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Sept. 9, 2013: Hillary Clinton speaks to reporters at the White House. (AP)

Well, that was quick: Hillary Clinton is no longer inevitable.

The media giveth and the media taketh away. And so the consensus that she will be sworn in as president in January 2017 has begun to crumble.

All right, I’m exaggerating a bit. More than two years before the Iowa caucuses, normal people haven’t even tuned in. And many in the press undoubtedly believe that Clinton will be facing off against Chris Christie, who as expected won a huge reelection victory yesterday. (For junkies: a network exit poll had her beating Christie in New Jersey, 49 to 43 percent.)

I’ve always had problems with the whole Hillary inevitability scenario, having seen that evaporate in 2008. But the conventional wisdom in the press seemed set in cement, notwithstanding the fact that Clinton hasn’t said she’s running.

Now comes liberal New York Times columnist Frank Bruni to say that, gadzooks, she’s slipping in the polls. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found that Clinton’s favorability rating had slipped from 56 to 46 percent, while her unfavorable rose from 29 to 33 percent. Stop the presses!

“Here we go. The beginning of the end of her inevitability...

“Voters are souring on familiar political operators, especially those in, or associated with, Washington. That’s why Clinton has fallen. She’s lumped together with President Obama, with congressional leaders, with the whole reviled lot of them.”

That’s an excellent and underappreciated point.

“And some of the ways in which she stands out from the lot aren’t flattering. She comes with a more tangled political history of gifts bestowed, favors owed, ironclad allegiances and ancient feuds than almost any possible competitor does…

 “And what would the argument for a Hillary presidency be? Something interesting happens when you ask Democrats why her in 2016. They say that it’s time for a woman, that she’ll raise oodles of dough, that other potentially strong candidates won’t dare take her on. The answers are about the process more than the person or any vision she has for the country. There’s no poetry in them. That’s not good.”

I wouldn’t dispute for a second that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming Democratic front-runner, even if there’s a challenge from the left, and that the groundbreaking nature of her candidacy will be a major asset. But I’ve always felt the media bestowed the inevitability crown too quickly, and here’s why.

No one knows what the political climate will be in 2016, but I know this: After eight years of one party controlling the White House, voters are usually ready for a change. Only once since the advent of presidential term limits—when George H.W. Bush defeated the hapless Mike Dukakis to succeed Ronald Reagan—has the country given one party 12 straight years.

If the Obama administration is limping out of office at relatively low popularity, that will affect the woman who was the president’s secretary of State. If ObamaCare is judged by then to have been a disaster, that will affect the woman who first pushed universal health care when her husband was president.

And since Hillary has been a national figure since 1992, and Bill is such a force in the Democratic Party, it’s a bit harder for her to run as a fresh face if Washington seems like a mess.

She could overcome all of that, of course, with an inspiring campaign. But it’s a tad early to say that in November of 2013.

Meanwhile, Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle is razzing her approach to the lecture circuit:

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hasn’t even started her 2016 presidential campaign yet — and she’s already shutting out the press.

Clinton’s much-anticipated speech at the Moscone Center on Saturday before the National Association of Realtors conference, a convention that is drawing 22,000 people to San Francisco this week, will be blacked out — closed to the media.

“So will her big fundraiser Saturday night with Chelsea Clinton at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom, a ‘Millennial Network’ event to benefit the Clinton Foundation.

“The decision to bar reporters from the Clinton speech before thousands of Realtors is ‘per her team’s request,’ a National Association of Realtors spokeswoman told us in an e-mail Monday.

“Seriously? In San Francisco? The easiest Democratic audience in the country? The region that’s home to Twitter, Facebook and Google?”

And it’s her buckraking that draws fire from National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson:

“Hillary Clinton is no doubt a talented speaker. She recently went into what the left wing sees as the heart of darkness of the American 1 percent at Goldman Sachs, purportedly gave two brief chats, and walked away with a reported $400,000 in fees. Such compensation is almost as profitable as Hillary’s long-ago cattle-future trading, in which as a talented rookie speculator she beat one-in-several-million odds by parlaying an original $1,000 investment into a $100,000 profit.

“That Goldman’s shenanigans were central to the 2008 housing and financial meltdown — and were empowered, in part, by Bill Clinton’s own prior twofer of deregulating Wall Street and appointing to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae greedy, though liberal, incompetents of the likes of James Johnson, Franklin Raines, and Jamie Gorelick — apparently meant nothing to Hillary.”

You can expect to see much more of this if she runs.

Confrontational Christie

There was one speed bump on Chris Christie’s big reelection, and that was the image of his wagging a finger at a New Jersey teacher who challenged him.

His heated encounter with Melissa Tomlinson of the state’s largest teachers’ union is getting plenty of coverage. Here’s part of her interview with Salon:

Christie’s opponent has called him a “bully.” Do you think that’s fair? Is that how you saw him?

I’m going to be honest … I haven’t seen enough of him to say, “Yes, he’s a bully.” Did I feel bullied at the time? Yes I did. I left shaking.

Why shaking?

It was a kind of a scary confrontation. He shouted at me. The crowd shouted at me. The crowd cheered when he shouted at me. People told me I was in the wrong place to be doing this. People need to understand it has to be done — somebody has to do it.

The governor responded in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: The photograph of this big strong governor berating a poor little teacher as some might see it, could be counterproductive to what you want to achieve.

CHRISTIE: First is that whole incident as an incident was mischaracterized and overdramatized by the teacher who belongs to a portion of the teachers union.

Are there times I wish I would have said something? Sure. But what I think people see in me is that I’m genuine.

That’s sort of a microcosm of the debate over Chris Christie and his outsize personality. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.