It looks grim for Donald Trump. So say the bellyachers in the Republican Party and the early celebrators in the Democratic Party — and the media.
He’s down 10 points in some polls! Somebody get Hillary a good real estate agent so she can rent out her Chappaqua digs!
Well, Hillary may be measuring the drapes in the Oval Office, but it’s hardly curtains for Donald Trump.
Well, Hillary may be measuring the drapes in the Oval Office, but it’s hardly curtains for Donald Trump. For many reasons, Trump is in far better shape than he seems — and is actually in an excellent position to win.
Let’s start with the most obvious fact: Election Day is 10 solid weeks away. Washington groupthink tends to hold that because something is a certain way, it will continue on that path forever — and then everyone is shocked when something changes. But after the conventions, most Americans went back to their lives, enjoying the final days of summer and tuning out politics.
Presidential races tighten up toward Election Day. The same people who brought you the inevitable President Jeb Bush are now bringing you the certainty of a Clinton coronation. But the election race begins the day after Labor Day, when Americans (at least the undecided ones) get down to the serious task of choosing who they’ll support for president.
Still — the polls, the polls! The mainstream media says the polls show this race is all over — everywhere. Shut ‘er down, no point in even holding the vote. You’d think America was North Korea, where the elections find the front-runner taking in 99.9879 percent of the vote.
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But, you want polls? Let’s look at actual polls. The big, scary polls showing Clinton ahead by 10 or 12 points tend to get the most attention. But as of Friday, Clinton was ahead of Trump by only 6 points in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls. Some of the latest polls put the two neck and neck. And it’s still August.
Still, Clinton isn’t running against Trump. She’s running against Trump, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who will each be on the ballot in all or nearly all of the states. When you factor in those two, neither of whom have a chance of winning, Clinton is ahead of Trump by only 4.5 points.
Yes, all this drama for a 4.5-point lead in August.
And Trump is even closer to Clinton in the polling averages of swing states he needs to take to get to 270 electoral votes. Trump is down by just 3.7 points in Florida, 4 points in Ohio, 3 points in North Carolina, 2.3 points in Nevada, and 0.2 points in Iowa. And he trails by just 3 points in the most recent poll in Oregon. If he wins those states and defends the ones he is supposed to win, he is at 271 electoral votes. And that’s without Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado or New Hampshire, states in which Clinton is decently ahead — but which some think may come into play.
Plus, Trump is finally running a more disciplined campaign, focusing on his policies and attacking Hillary Clinton instead of Khizr and Ghazala Khan.
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And Trump is just now starting to spend money on ads. Clinton has saturated the airwaves, and Trump will finally start to have a say with anyone not fast-forwarding through the commercials. This may well help move some polls his way as Hillary’s message gets redundant and Trump’s selling points get a first look.
And how many people are lying about their preferences to pollsters? Trump is vilified in the media, and by Clinton and her many surrogates, as not just wrong for the country, but evil, racist, dumb, greedy, dishonest, reckless, and just plain mean. So, imagine some bright young thing — or perhaps someone with a Hispanic accent — is on the phone asking you if you support Trump. It may not be so easy for many, particularly independents, to acknowledge they’d vote for such a supposedly horrible person.
“Ashamed” Trump supporters are a widely accepted and understood polling phenomenon. The only thing that is unclear is how many of them there are.
Trump has also begun an aggressive outreach to minority voters. He has, in polling with Latinos and African-Americans, nowhere to go but up. And even small gains among these demographics could make a huge difference in states with large minority populations, which include most of the swing states.
People also seem to forget that the only debates that have occurred have been in TV studios between Trump and Clinton surrogates, or between Trump surrogates and journalists. One of the keys to Trump’s victory in the primaries was his strong performance in the debates, where he relegated Jeb Bush from a giant to a lilliputian who, each debate — as Trump pointed out — was positioned further and further to the edge of the stage. Until, of course, he was off it entirely.
Trump also has far more to gain than Clinton during the debates. Many voters who don’t like him are independents and moderate Republicans who may not have been paying such close attention during the primaries. Trump has a chance to reintroduce himself and assuage some of their fears, as stoked by the media, that he is a scary person who knows nothing about policy.
Trump is better known as a reality show host, and during the debates he can demonstrate his ability to sound presidential. Hillary, by contrast, is a known quantity on the political stage. Trump will have a chance to dispatch her with stinging criticisms in the manner he did with his hapless opponents during the Republican primaries.
And then, of course, there are the emails. We may not have seen the worst yet of Clinton’s self-damaging missives. Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has all but promised an “October surprise,” indicating he has held some of the juicy stuff back for later use.
But perhaps the most important factor that should give Trump’s supporters cause for optimism is the most essential dynamic of the election — this is simply not a status quo year. Americans are not happy with the way things are going, with respect to foreign policy, the economy, and even the culture of the country.
Nobody is more status quo than Hillary Clinton. And nobody is less so than Donald Trump.
Keith Koffler is editor of the website White House Dossier and the newsletter Cut to the News.