A rash of recent polls has showed that Hillary Clinton is in a dead heat with Donald Trump both nationally and in battleground states. In some cases, she leads by a razor-thin margin, and in some, she trails. Implied in this data was a worrisome trajectory—as Trump’s strength grows, and Clinton’s wanes, the long road between now and November could spell doom for Democrats. Worse, Clinton has a history of losing ground in major races, as she did in her 2008 primary loss to Barack Obama, and as she has this year against Bernie Sanders in a race that she will likely hang on to win. If she’s already neck-and-neck with Trump, history seems to be on his side.
Late yesterday evening, the situation grew bleaker, as a poll from FoxNews came in with the worst results yet for Democrats. (Note: Though FoxNews is a notoriously unreliable, right-leaning cable network, their polling arm is a respected bipartisan apparatus, earning a solid B-grade from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.) Nationally, the poll shows Trump leading Clinton 45-42, but that only tells part of the story. The devil is in the details, and they contain nothing but doom and gloom for Clinton. For instance:
—Trump nullifies Clinton’s lead among women (50-36 percent) with an even greater lead among men (55-33 percent).
—Independents, who have gone largely to Bernie Sanders in the “open” Democratic primaries, are firmly in Trump’s camp by a staggering 46-30 percent.
—Worse, 20 percent of Independents will vote for neither candidate, and among Sanders supporters, 11 percent have pledged to not just abstain, but actually vote for Trump.
—Clinton has a huge lead among blacks and Hispanics, but even this comes with bad news. Her lead is smaller than Obama’s final margin over Mitt Romney in 2008, and—especially among black voters—Clinton will certainly inspire a smaller turnout.
—Working class whites overwhelmingly support Trump, 61-24, while whites in general favor him by 24 points. He even holds a nine-point lead among white women.
The real kicker, though, comes when you get to candidate characteristics. Hillary Clinton has always been perceived as dishonest by the majority of the electorate in these polls, but for the first time ever, her “untrustworthy” metrics are even worse than Trump’s. Sixty-six percent of voters polled considered her dishonest (a net of -35), while 57 percent believe the worst about Trump.
They perform equally (by which I mean equally poorly) in other categories, such as whether they would be “strong leaders,” or whether they care about ordinary people, or whether they have strong moral values, or whether they’ll say anything to get elected. Shockingly, Hillary is also considered the “more corrupt” candidate by a 12-point margin.
This perception—that both candidates are crooked, but Hillary slightly more so—is absolutely critical to Donald Trump. A lack of enthusiasm will not only squash turnout, but it will allow him to stage a gutter fight against Clinton. Already, the voters have decided that she will not be able to take the high ground, which is perhaps the only way to defeat Trump. The entire GOP primary race proved how well he fares against rivals who are mistrusted—he blazes through them with his street brawler instincts and his ability to come across as more authentic.
The point is, we’ve seen how this plays out. He defeated a horde of Hillary Clintons in the primary, and these poll results show that he’s poised to wage the exact same kind of war, and achieve the same outcome. It would be one thing if we could dismiss the results as an outlier, but we can’t—they perfectly reflect the pattern that’s emerged in a half-dozen recent polls.
One comfort the Democrats allow themselves is the idea that polls at this stage are not predictive, and they like to point to research which shows that to be the case when the election is a year away. We are no longer a year away. We are six months away, and this research ignores the fact that more than ever before, we’re dealing with known commodities. What more can be said about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, celebrity figures that most Americans have known for decades? How many minds can really be changed? We understand what we’re getting, and that knowledge has been honed over many years. Six months more will bring about small changes, but the drastic swings we’ve seen in the past simply won’t happen—this is a dog fight that is only going to grow uglier between two candidates who will never be trusted or loved by the majority. That ship sailed for both of them long, long ago, and there’s no reason to believe today’s polls aren’t accurate.
The second comfort of the Democrats is that Trump’s appeal will be diminished when the full weight of the party’s attack machine is brought to bear. But that’s a false and foolish hope, because Trump and his Republican henchmen—who may loathe him, but are always spoiling for a fight against Hillary Clinton—will fling just as much mud, with just as much velocity. Clinton will score victories, but they’ll be pyrrhic victories. Trump’s modus operandi is to rip his opponent to shreds, take a few shots in return, and gamble that he’ll come out on top when the dust settles.
Democrats should stop deluding themselves with fantasy—they kid themselves that Trump is in for a different kind of fight, but they don’t realize that he’s already set the terms of battle. Clinton is the one who will be fighting on new ground, where the usual rules don’t apply. The fact that she’s already trailing is the worst possible news at the worst possible time. It puts a fatal dent into the idea that she’s the frontrunner, and cedes an important early advantage—what hope is there, really, when you have to convince the American people that you’re a better bet than Donald Trump? As Barack Obama and Bill Clinton proved, Democrats win with a positive message and an energetic following, and they lose with cynical appeals to a “lesser-of-two-evils” mentality.
The deck is stacked against Clinton, and the numbers are telling a story that’s all too true. Starting today, there can be no more doubt: Donald Trump is the favorite to become the next president of the United States.