With national polls unexpectedly tight, Democrats are worried that an erratic bully — who exploits racial anxiety and rubs his fingers in the wounded psyche of the white working class — might actually win the presidency. Because no one like Donald Trump has previously secured a major party nomination, predictions are difficult.
Yes, there could be a major terrorist attack in the U.S. that shifts swing voters to the "strongman." Yes, there's a slim chance the FBI will push the Justice Department to indict Hillary Clinton for her private email server. Yes, there clearly is some Clinton fatigue. And yes, nonexistent income growth over 40 years and Friday's dismal jobs report could create space for an "outsider."
But several trends and facts in Clinton's favor are starting to harden:
Democratic nominees have won the popular vote in five of the most recent six elections, including Obama's four- and seven-point majorities. And every cycle sees a point or two gain in the Democratic base because of the steady rise of minorities and millennials. While only 10% of the electorate was nonwhite in 1992, that figure will grow to about 30% this November — and Clinton leads that group, 7-1, after Trump's birther and deportation comments.
The electoral college has a "Blue Wall" (Ron Brownstein's phrase) of 18 states where Democrats won six of the last six presidential contests, totaling 242 electoral votes. That's a hell of a likely head start to 270.
Favorability ratings can vary, but it takes a lot for them to flip. (Two months after killing Osama bin Laden, Obama's numbers settled back to where they had been.) As of now, the president's net favorable is plus-6. The Democratic Party is minus-5. Clinton, minus-14. Trump, minus-27. The Republican Party, minus-29.
The potentially first female president should do far better among white women than Obama, who lost them by 14 points to Mitt Romney in 2012. Already, Trump has a staggering minus-40 favorability among single women, who aren't impressed by his caveman persona or his suggestion that women should be "punished" for having abortions.
Most angry white guys love Trump. But since Romney walloped Obama 65%-35% among this cohort, there aren't many more for Clinton to lose.
Bernie Sanders could keep hounding Clinton, all the way to the convention, but he won't want to risk costing her the election and tainting his successful insurgency. After he grumpily embraces her, she'll get 90%-plus of committed and leaning Democrats (50% of the country, based on registration). In a far more bitterly divided GOP, Trump will get perhaps 85% of committed and leaning Republicans (only 40% of the country).
Compared to Trump, who so far has done without a developed fundraising operation, the Clinton campaign will have more money and better analytics to pull voters. The disparity could be as great as 2-1, an unheard-of edge for a Democratic nominee.
Trump's smear-and-fear debate tactics worked in the GOP primaries, but they are unlikely to succeed against a poised, savvy politician with dozens of debates under her belt.
In political ads, Trump will try to define Clinton as "crooked" and an "enabler." That's the best he's got. Meanwhile, Clinton can pummel Trump's unpresidential temperament, ignorance about nuclear weapons, business sleaze that hurts real people, misogynistic comments and endorsements from Klansmen.
Remember how the economy nearly collapsed and $14 trillion of wealth vanished under the last Republican president? Under Obama, the economy has grown for 75 straight months, and the unemployment rate fell from 10% to less than 5%. Clinton should not lose the economic argument to a one-percenter who wants to cut his taxes.
How can Trump pass the commander in chief test? America ultimately will conclude that an experienced former secretary of State is more trustworthy than a tantrum-prone narcissist, as Clinton effectively explained in her San Diego address last Thursday.
While third parties sink in polls closer to Election Day (see Ralph Nader in 2000), it's looking like the impressive Libertarian Party ticket (which takes largely from the Republican side) will significantly outperform the Green Party (which takes mostly from Democrats).
After giving him saturation coverage in the nomination race, the media — perhaps sensitive to appearing complicit in his rise — may be turning on Trump. Consider, for example, recent aggressive reporting on Trump's (suspiciously timed) donations to veterans' charities and condemnation of his attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Live by the sword, die by the sword, especially after calling the sword "disgraceful, dishonest and disgusting," as he did at a recent news conference.
Who wins a race for both POTUS and SCOTUS between a tough-love mom and your crazy uncle? Based on historic trends and their comparative assets, my best guess is that Clinton prevails by at least 53% to 46%, perhaps even a double-digit landslide. The most unpopular presidential nominee ever won't be elected president. At least not if Democrats remember Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' admonition: "The way the inevitable came to pass was effort."
Mark Green hosts the nationally syndicated radio show "Both Sides Now." His 23rd book was published last month, "Bright Infinite Future: A Generational Memoir on the Progressive Rise."
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