There's nothing particularly unusual about Hillary Rodham Clinton's $225,000 fee for her upcoming speech at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In March, the University of California at Los Angeles paid $300,000 for a similar event with Mrs. Clinton, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The difference is that some students – facing a 17 percent tuition hike over the next four years – have asked her to give the money back, and that is it now increasingly open season on Clinton.
Of course, speaking fees for former politicians is hardly stop-the-presses stuff, though Clinton appears to be doing rather well for herself. During his presidential run in 2012, Newt Gingrich was criticized for charging speaking fees of $60,000. The same year, Mitt Romney characterized his $374,000 in speaking fees from February 2010 to February 2011 as "not very much," which, of course, it isn't compared with Clinton's haul this year.
Then again, that's probably not the company Clinton would like to keep. While she has never quite managed her husband's populist touch (then again, who has?), she'd rather not be lumped in with a man whose popular image conjured up the world "plutocrat."
But that's what happened earlier this month when she said that her family was "dead broke" when it left the White House. More recently, she doubled down in trying to distinguish her family from the "truly well off" by noting that the Clintons pay taxes at a regular rate (about 31 percent). This second comment seemed targeted directly at Mr. Romney, who was pilloried in 2012 for paying (legally) only at a 15 percent rate.
Clinton's statements might have been correct, yet the Clintons' lifestyle – supported in part by those speaker's fees – has hardly resembled anything even approaching middle class, leaving the impression that she was out of touch with voters. Acknowledging this, Clinton said last week that her comments were "inartful."
Would UNLV students have raised the issues of speaker's fees had Clinton's checkbook not become headline news? Perhaps. College students have been particularly vocal about commencement speakers this year, and UNLV students might have caught that rebellious spirit in any case. (For the record, Clinton is speaking at the UNLV Foundation Annual Dinner, which is described as a "prominent philanthropic event," and the fee will go her family's charity, the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Foundation.)
But the story certainly fits the recent narrative about Clinton's finances, and it is something that Republicans think might stick.
With polls showing that Clinton is the leader of any presumed 2016 presidential candidate – Democrat or Republican – Republicans have not been shy in trying to find chinks in her armor. Many have hammered her over her role as secretary of State during the Benghazi attack, in which the ambassador to Libya and three others were killed. Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky tried for a while to raise her name in connection with her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
All of these things might have had a cumulative effect. In 2012, during her time as secretary of State, Clinton enjoyed favorable ratings of 70 percent. A Bloomberg poll released this month has her ratings down to 52 percent.
Is that really the result of Republican attacks? Perhaps. Or maybe voters are just casting a more critical eye on Clinton as she moves more clearly into campaign mode – beginning a book tour and upping her public appearances.
"The numbers are a case study in what campaigning can do to a public figure's persona. People in the political spotlight – but without the electoral baggage – usually catch a break from the public," writes Jamie Fuller of "The Fix" blog on The Washington Post. "But as soon as voters sense a whiff of political ambition in those they hold in high esteem, approval often begins to break along more partisan lines."
Ms. Fuller notes that the same pattern played out when Clinton ran for Senate. The upshot is not that Clinton's presumed presidential campaign is in trouble. It is that, as Americans sense her seemingly inevitable announcement coming, they are shifting the way they view her.