If you’ve been following the polls (which you can do here by clicking “2016 Polls!” above), you know that the race for the Presidency is very close. Despite a disastrous August, Trump has emerged in September with real momentum, while Clinton’s campaign has been stymied by rumor and more recently, a rather serious bout of pneumonia.
It is still early, but the talk of Trump dropping out or Clinton winning a landslide has faded as people come to grips with the possibility that come January 20, 2017 we may be talking about President Trump.
Trump’s rise is due to a number of factors. First, he’s an outsider. A recent state poll in the swing state of Ohio showed that Trump was clobbering Clinton among self-proclaimed independents. For those who want change – who want someone from outside the normal political field – Trump is worth the risk.
Second, third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are polling better than expected, mostly at a cost to Hillary. Many thought disaffected Republicans would flock to Johnson, a former Republican governor, but his libertarian views and foreign policy isolationism have made him appealing to those who might otherwise vote Democratic. Usually third party candidates poll better than they draw on an election day, but at this point Clinton is hurt by Johnson’s strength.
Finally, Trump has a coat of Teflon that is unprecedented. Ronald Reagan was the original Teflon President, but his misstatements were so minor as to be virtually non-existent compared to Trump’s. Clinton assumed that these would form an albatross around Trump’s neck that would sink him. While she needs to keep up the effort to use Trump’s past against him, it’s not going to be enough to defeat him.
Trump’s appeal has multiple facets. Some hate the cultural and demographic change that has swept the country, and hope Trump somehow can bring us back to America circa 1984. Others are disgusted with politics as usual and figure Trump will at the very least shake things up. Some like the fact he’s unapologetically politically incorrect. People are sick of being told what words they can and can’t use – and Trump represents a middle finger to the face of political correctness.
I’ve heard even more unexpected rationales for voting Trump. One person figures America is going to collapse anyway, and Trump will at least make that happen more quickly (why she wants that to happen more quickly, I do not know). Another believes Trump is really a New York liberal and will govern to the left of Clinton.
In other words, Trump’s appeal is that he is different things to different people. People see in him what they want, he’s kind of a political Rorschach test.
Clinton, on the other hand, suffers from 25 years of constant attacks from the right, and conspiracy theories from the right and left. Sanders supporters who learned to hate Clinton believe she’s some kind of evil right wing fraud; people in the middle either don’t trust her or are sick of the Clinton name. Unlike Obama, she doesn’t inspire; few people are going out of their way to put up Hillary signs or sport Hillary bumper stickers on their cars. Even those who hate Trump are rarely enthusiastic about Hillary. She’s the anti-Trump, people see in her negative traits like corruption and dishonesty.
To be sure, I don’t think those views of Hillary are fair – she’s a victim of long term character assassination, and it’s worked. But she’s not going to undo that by November, the best she can do is try to convince those on the edge that she’s really not so bad. But while Trump’s Rorschach candidacy helps him, Clinton’s past hangs on her neck like the albatross she thought Trump would carry.
The result is a candidate, Donald Trump, having the chance to win the Presidency despite having a favorability rating below 40%
What will happen? This election is yet undecided. That isn’t always the case by mid-September. In both 2008 and 2012 it was pretty clearly Obama’s to win at this point. That means the debates matter, Clinton’s ability to bounce back from pneumonia matters, and the ups and downs of the campaign trail yet to come matter. This is a real battle.
Clinton is still the favorite to win. Her favorability ratings are bad, but not as bad as Trump’s. As the election gets closer and people really look at Trump, it will be harder to ignore the negatives. Beyond that, Clinton has a better organization and more money; she might win through her get out the vote effort.
But if the Democrats had nominated someone like Corey Booker, they’d probably be looking at much better prospects. Clinton can be defeated, she is not a strong candidate, something she admits. Moreover, Trump has the chance to stay on message, be disciplined, and not give in to the rants and temper tantrums that have hurt him in the past. I think Clinton will win, but at this point the race is undecided and anything can happen.