Hillary Clinton's emails have yielded their biggest discovery yet: the Clinton scandal with the most staying power with voters since her husband first became president over 23 years ago.
A CNN/ORC poll last week found that 62 percent of registered voters believed her use of a private email server while secretary of state "an important indicator of her character and ability to serve as president," up from 46 percent in March 2015, while just 36 percent said it is "not relevant" compared to 52 percent at the start of the campaign.
This headline from the conservative website Twitchy says it all: "Hillary's lead keeps disappearing, much like her emails."
There are Clinton scandals that date back much further, but they tend to follow a familiar pattern. Republicans and others who were never going to vote for Bill or Hillary in the first place care about them a great deal. Other voters are less concerned, regarding them as either unseemly but not salient for voting purposes or not significant at all.
Once some controlling legal authority declines to impose consequences — the Senate fails to convict after the House impeaches, special prosecutors fail to prosecute, congressional oversight stalls — the public concurs with the Clinton defenders' exhortations to "move on."
From Kenneth Starr to Republican committee chairmen, anyone who wants to keep pushing a Clinton scandal past this expiration date becomes an unsympathetic figure or a crazed partisan witch hunter.
It stood to reason that after the FBI didn't recommend charges against Clinton, this pattern would repeat itself and the public would be as sick of hearing about her damn emails as Bernie Sanders. Instead there has been a steady drip of new revelations since FBI Director James Comey's unsatisfying explanation of his decision and voters have continued to view Clinton's account skeptically.
As far back as last year, 68 percent of Americans thought Clinton's email arrangement was either ethically or legally wrong, with fully 28 percent judging it illegal. By July, most thought she broke the law. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 56 percent — including 31 percent of Democrats — disagreed with Comey's decision on criminal charges.
Clinton's favorability rating has been tumbling toward new lows while Donald Trump has received a new lease on life, cutting the Democrat's lead to just 2.1 points in a four-way national race, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
The email scandal is easy to understand — Clinton appeared to be increasing her communications' risk of exposure to the Russians or the Chinese while concealing what Americans were entitled to know under current transparency rules — and reinforces persistent public concerns that she is untrustworthy.
Many of the previous Clinton scandals, like Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate and Hillary's cattle futures controversies, contained a lot of details that were hard to understand. Others involved sexual behavior voters thought should remain in the private rather than the public sphere. Others still were somewhat factually dubious. By the time simple, well-founded scandals most would find publicly relevant emerged, such as the illegal foreign contributions to Bill's 1996 re-election campaign or the donors sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, there was a certain Clinton scandal fatigue.
A September 1998 ABC News poll found that 70 percent thought it was right of Bill Clinton not to talk with prosecutors about the details of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Fifty-nine percent thought it was wrong of the prosecutors to ask. The public was even split about whether the testimony made them more likely or less likely to believe Clinton should leave office.
In August 1998, 68 percent of respondents told ABC News that Bill Clinton should remain in office rather than resign and 69 percent thought Congress should not impeach him. Sixty-nine percent also thought the investigation into Clinton should end.
An October 1998 CBS News poll found that 64 percent did not believe the allegations against Clinton were serious enough for him to leave the presidency.
Concerning Hillary Clinton's emails, even polls where respondents believed Republicans were trying to damage her politically rather than find out the facts, majorities disapproved of her handling of the situation. CNN's latest poll shows people view her as less trustworthy than Trump.
While her husband was popular, large majorities have an unfavorable view of the 2016 Democratic nominee. While Bill's argument that investigations into his conduct detracted from his ability to do the people's business prevailed, the public seems concerned that Hillary's scandals will actually hamper her ability to be an effective and ethical president.
The Clintons may yet prevail in their second political act. But the electorate just doesn't seem as forgiving this time around.