February 26, 2016


Think Hillary Clinton Will Crush Donald Trump in the General Election? Don't Be So Sure. (Josh Voorhees, 2/25/16, Slate)

Trump continues to defy pretty much every political commandment in the Beltway bible, along with basic societal norms to boot. He began his campaign with a rambling speech that compared Mexicans to rapists and murderers, and somehow still managed to continue to shock with his unveiled racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia in the months that followed. Certainly, that would make him less appealing to the general public, right? Wrong.

He went from trailing Clinton in the head-to-head polls by 20 points last summer to down only 4 points today. His favorability ratings tell a similar story. Last May, when few actually believed he'd give up his reality television career to run for president, his favorable-unfavorable split among all Americans--not just Republicans--was at negative-47 points. Today, after eight months of demagogy, it's improved to negative-21. (In that same period, Hillary's split moved in the opposite direction, from negative-3 to negative-12.) Trump, meanwhile, has built a far broader coalition of conservative voters than anyone expected--just look at the record number of voters who have turned out for the first four contests of 2016. Entrance and exit polls suggest he's popular among wide swaths of the GOP electorate, including both those who describe themselves as "very conservative" and those who see themselves as "moderate." In a year that has been defined by anti-establishment anger, it's also not unthinkable to imagine a scenario in a general election fight with Clinton where Trump peels off a small though significant slice of Sanders supporters--particularly given the subtle threads of misogyny that have been spotted running along the far fringes of Bernie's legion of fans.

Hold on, I'm not done.

The Trump-will-get-crushed theory rests on two central pillars. The first is that independents will take one look at the real estate tycoon and go running into the arms of Clinton. The problem, though, is that there are far fewer swing votes in play than many Americans like to believe. Partisanship dominates modern elections in ways it never did when Barry Goldwater or George McGovern were buried underneath November landslides. Party loyalty will convince many conservative-leaning independents to rethink their personal feelings about Trump--just as it will do the same for those liberal-leaning independents who remain skeptical of Clinton. There's unlikely to be enough true undecideds left in the middle to turn the election into a blowout.

The second pillar is that a large chunk of hard-core conservatives simply won't be able to bring themselves to pull the lever for Trump and will either vote for Hillary, stay home, or vote for a third-party candidate, which would be the same as staying home. The first scenario would be laughable--this is Hillary freaking Clinton we're talking about--but the latter two can't be taken as a given on a grand scale, especially in a campaign that has now turned, at least in part, into a referendum on the future of the Supreme Court. Democrats tell themselves that the chance to replace the late Antonin Scalia will energize their base, and it likely will. But so too will it likely fire up conservatives who will spend the summer being warned of all they will lose if Clinton wins the White House and is given the chance to replace their conservative hero with a liberal villain. Yes, many in the Republican Party will fear they won't like Trump's pick for the high court, but they'll certainly like it more than anyone Clinton would nominate. The Donald, meanwhile, could put such worries largely to rest by simply announcing a party-approved nominee as his pick while the election is still going on. National Review readers might not want to vote for Donald J. Trump, but I bet they could pull the lever for him if they convince themselves they're voting to give Don R. Willett or someone else from their SCOTUS wish list a lifetime appointment.

Might have to add a few cabinet announcements and the Chief of Staff to that...
Posted by at February 26, 2016 9:39 AM