Once a husky and handsy hillbilly, Bill Clinton transformed his public image post-presidency by slimming down, wearing skinny little suits, and sporting grandpa glasses. As one astute commentator observed, it’s almost like that president is saying “Oh me? I’m just an old, old man. I don’t have the appetites."
And this worked. Because the new Bill was cool. Because the new Bill was apologetic for that thing that happened with the intern that one time. And most importantly, because the old Bill wasn’t known by new voters.
The elder statesman thing seemed to really suit Clinton and for a while America agreed. The 42nd president hit an all-time high in public opinion when a 2013 Gallup poll pegged his favorability rating at 69 percent. That had dipped a bit while campaigning against Barrack Obama in 2008. But the nation couldn’t stay mad and his numbers quickly rebounded.
Then Hillary Clinton happened.
The suddenly loyal husband stood by his wife’s side a second time as she ran one of the most haplessly disastrous presidential campaigns in modern history. He was with her, knowing full well the unpopularity that would come simply by association. But even her loss didn’t have to be a disaster for him. Some charity work here, a fun photo-op with former presidents there could’ve put him back on top.
Then Harvey Weinstein happened. The widespread epidemic of sexual harassment has forced a new generation to judge the once popular president in light of the once popular producer. Was Clinton’s alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick any less or horrifying than the Weinstein allegations? It wasn’t just the religious Right that was concerned about what the president did with an Oval Office intern. Everyone, from the Atlantic to NPR, wondered.
The numbers bear this out. Polling from Gallup shows that Clinton has dropped 5 points from 50 to 45 percent in just one year. It’s the most unpopular he has ever been since leaving the White House. By comparison, Clinton is now less popular than former President George W. Bush. Despite the wars and the economic collapse, that neo-conservative cowboy has a 59 percent approval rating — numbers Clinton would kill for.
This is a new low for the old president and a death blow for his new image. The makeover just can’t work anymore. In the Weinstein era, Bill is just an old creep in a new suit.