As campaigns go, Donald Trump had a terrible week. A miserable one, to be sure. I remember George McGovern trying to recover from the news of his running mate Tom Eagleton being treated for severe depression, then having to explain a claim that every American would get $1,000 from the federal government. McGovern was always on the defensive and incumbent Richard Nixon had gone to China, so McGovern never really had a chance anyway. McGovern’s party was hopelessly split by rules that needlessly prevented many establishment figures from being delegates so it was just a mess all the way around for him. And he ended up losing 49 states to a controversial, despised, and distrusted President.
Just as this year is a horrible mess for Donald Trump. While he has received the votes of 42% of primary voters, he did in fact lose the other 58%. And he has done precious little to win any (not many, or some, or even a few, truly any) of those who did not support him. He has gratuitously enraged one group of voters after another and received serious criticism (condemnation) for his inability to deal with any kind of criticism. Under normal circumstances, Trump would not stand a chance to win in November. Frankly, under normal circumstances, Trump would never have gotten this far.
But Trump is not out of this. Odds are against him. Demographics are against him, too. He is clearly on the ropes – but anyone who suggests this race is over is simply living in a bubble, a Beltway bubble. Consider the following:
- Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton – while her horse race numbers have gone up and Trump’s have gone down, she has not quite closed the deal. In the latest polls, she is hovering around 46%-48% among 18-29 year olds and has not expanded her support among whites without a college education. Does she need these groups? The short answer is yes. Without sufficient numbers of younger voters she leaves the open the possibility of their either voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein, both of whom have been gaining in recent polls. There is also the potential that younger voters can stay home or simply not choose to vote for President, something which then allows an increased turnout among male, white, non-college-educated voters to dominate the turnout in several states. I am thinking especially of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina. Clearly, Clinton is leading in many states right now – including some like Arizona and Georgia that have been red states – but she is still not beloved and presumably Trump will get back on message, which will include a withering attack against her, her husband, and the status quo. As things now stand, a normal turnout in the Obama Era would mean that Trump would have to obtain around 71% – 73% of the total white vote, something that neither 2008 nominee John McCain nor 2012 standard-bearer Mitt Romney could not even come close to achieving. But nothing about this year has been normal.
- I am just returning from back-to-back trips to Houston and the Adirondacks, neither of which had anything to do with politics. I heard people talking. In Houston, I overheard medical center employees – predominantly non-white – claim to be disgusted by Trump but note that they simply could not trust Clinton and would “probably” not vote at all. In the Adirondacks, including many tourists as well as residents, there were NO bumper stickers, signs or discussions expressing any kind of support for Clinton. Clearly, coming off a successful convention and a serious meltdown by her opponent, she is simply not a beloved figure.
There is still some time. Let me be clear, Trump has been a terrible “conventional” candidate. But unconventional has been good for him, actually very good for him, thus far. Clinton should be far ahead by any kind of historical standard and right now she is in good shape. But what I have seen and heard thus far suggests that we need to revisit this again. I think it will tighten up.