Before the Republican convention, I told you that July would likely be the peak of Donald Trump’s historic embarrassment of a presidential campaign. I now say that early August is probably the peak of Hillary Clinton’s historic effort to become the first woman president of the United States.
That’s not to say Clinton won’t win in an electoral college landslide. All she needs to do is hold the states President Obama won in 2012 for that to happen.
Current polling suggests she will, with possible pickups in North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia, which would be huge victories given that three Senate seats are also up for grabs in those states. But she’s not likely to get better news before November 8 than the 15 percent lead she saw in the respected McClatchy/Marist poll last week.
Landslide wins of a dozen percentage points or more just aren’t probable in our modern polarized politics, even if you nominate the least qualified candidate in American history. And this just isn’t because the American public is gripped by a negative partisanship rarely seen in our Republic. We get to blame the press, too!
You know the press wants this to be close. No, they need it to be close.
They’ll fixate on parsing everyone of Hillary Clinton’s words, seeking to equate them with the tsunami of lies that burst from Trump’s mouth any time he sees a microphone or his aides let him have access to his Twitter account.
They’ll hype any poll that says the race is close. And they’ll even offer Trump advice on how to get back in the game. Most of that advice will sound a lot like this: Get on message!
“You need to decide the two or three things you really want to emphasize on a given day, week or month and then talk about them every day, all day,” the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza cannily advised.
There are several reasons why the press is going to have to keep Trump’s campaign alive — and why this billionaire impersonator won’t be able to do it himself.
- His “message” is incredibly unpopular.
Donald Trump won a plurality of the GOP primary by driving his party to extremes on the exact issues where it most needed moderation. Now he’s pushing the same issues in a general election. Basically he’s using the act that made him valedictorian of the clown college — at an actual college. Few analysts point out that the harsh immigration stands that define his candidacy all garner at most 33 percent support, which just happens to be the percentage of voters who backed Trump in that disastrous McClatchy/Marist poll.
- Most of his likely gains in the polls will come from winning Republicans back.
Trump’s Republican National Convention will go down in history — way down in history. It marked the first time a four-day, prime-time commercial for a candidate actually made voters less likely to support the candidate. Part of this was its content, which we’ll get to momentarily — but Trump also managed to exacerbate the internal divisions that obscured his tired, boring choice of running mate, who was supposed to “unite the party.” Thus he lost support from Republicans and right-leaning independents following the convention, accounting for much of his poll dip. These voters are likely to line up again with Trump, but his campaign’s task — as former Obama strategist Dan Pfeiffer often notes — is picking up Obama voters, not securing Romney voters.
- Hillary Clinton and her campaign are quite good at this.
In contrast, the McClatchy/Marist showed Clinton coming out of her convention with 96 percent of Democrats supporting her, 7 percent more than Trump’s support in his party. Clinton drove up this number and united her party by running a convention that started with a burst of historic turmoil: Supporters of Bernie Sanders were threatening a revolt egged on by leaks, possibly sponsored by a foreign government, that seemed to confirm their worst conspiracy theories. Clinton’s team responded by managing the dissent and aligning the party with such deftness and grace that by the time Bernie Sanders rose to call for Hillary Clinton’s nomination, the divisions of the first day had been eased by a flurry of historic speeches and artful coalition building. Before the convention, Clinton’s approval ratings had plummeted to a historic low. Two weeks later she is back near breakeven with a double-digit approval margin over Trump. Rarely has a convention been so successful in bringing out the best in its nominee and the worst in her opponent.
- Trump spent his entire convention making this election a referendum on himself — and then spent the subsequent week disqualifying himself.
Trump had long promised a star-studded, unconventional convention that displayed his unique appeal to the nation. What he delivered was a telethon of terror where the only star was Trump’s ego. His message: “I alone can fix this.” And by “this” he means America, which he described as a disaster combining the social unrest of 1968, the rampant crime of 1988, and the financial meltdown of 2008. The theory of his campaign is based on about 7 of 10 Americans say America in on the wrong track. He ignores that many of those “wrong track” people are responding to a GOP Congress that won’t fund money to fight Zika without cutting Obamacare, or that Republicans have actually nominated a birther to be president. Actually, the president’s approval is above 50 percent, and we’re in the middle of the longest stretch of private-sector job growth ever. ISIS is definitely a threat and the never-ending fallout of the Iraq War in terms of the disaster of Syria and the refugee crisis are real. Yet Trump’s simplistic approach to solving this problems with “secret plans” baffles most minds that aren’t aching for an authoritarian daddy to fix everything. He made this election a “referendum” on his qualifications to do so — and then spent the next week displaying his utter irresponsibility, with his despicable verbal assault on the family of a U.S. solider who he claimed “viciously attacked” him, with a Constitution. He’d been baited by a speaker at the Democratic convention to destroy the argument he made at his own. And even if he gets back on “message,” that horrific attack — which almost 8 of 10 Americans disapproved — will linger in ads until Election Day.
- You’re going to see a flurry of “attacks” on Trump like nothing in recent history. And he’ll have to respond.
Republicans have been dreaming of some way to make Trump disappear for 14 months and now they’re stuck with the option of just letting him lose alone. According to The New York Times, GOP Super Pacs are now “discussing advertisements that would treat Mr. Trump’s defeat as a given and urge voters to send Republicans to Congress as a check on a Hillary Clinton White House.” Every day new business, military, and intelligence leaders who would normally remain silent will speak up to point out that Trump fails to meet the minimum requirements to serve as president of the United States. He has no record of public service and the flood of lawsuits against him and his chickenhawk draft-dodging all indicate his unfitness. He won’t even meet the most basic obligation of a nominee: proving that he’s not a crook by releasing his tax returns. America is rejecting Trump like he’s a diseased organ. This failed transplant of bigoted fascism into our imperfect but striving democracy needs to be rejected fully. And faced with the greatest embarrassment of his life and threatening unrest in his wake, Trump will become even more erratic and destructive. And that’s why his message will keep him out of the White House.