Is the 2016 presidential race over? I suppose the answer to that question turns on how you define “over.” Is there anything approaching certainty about the outcome? Of course not; human behavior and elections don’t lend themselves to much certainty, especially not this year. Exogenous events such as international crises, economic and financial calamities, debates, and the potential for other political mishaps always introduce a level of doubt.
Having said all that, it would appear that Donald Trump has fashioned a noose and seems hell-bent on leaping off a platform. The guy can’t seem to help himself. He has convinced himself that there really is nothing that he can say that will alienate his voters. That might well be the case with his base, but won’t likely work so well with the undecided and swing voters that are not already his. They appear to be reacting rather negatively to his bizarre behavior.
Even putting aside for a moment Trump and Hillary Clinton, Democrats start off with certain advantages. The Electoral College shows a decided Democratic tilt, as do demographics. Six times in a row since 1992, Democrats have won 18 states plus the District of Columbia with a total of 242 electoral votes, 89 percent of what is necessary to win, while Republicans have won just 13 states with 38 percent of the 270 needed, so the GOP faces a headwind to begin with. With the country getting increasingly more diverse, the white share has dropped from 89 percent of the electorate in 1992 to just 72 percent in 2012, and the increasing unpopularity of the GOP with minority voters has grown from being a problem to an enormous obstacle.
But even with the natural advantages that any Democrat should have in this election, Hillary Clinton is extremely vulnerable and this race should be winnable for the GOP. Using the RealClearPolitics averages of the major national polls, 41 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Clinton, while 54 percent have a negative view. Those awful poll numbers can more than cancel out the Electoral College and demographic advantages that just any Democrat would have. If this election is simply a referendum on Clinton, she loses.
The fact is that if Republicans had nominated a potted plant or some other form of political placebo, they might well have beaten her. A fairly innocuous Republican like John Kasich would likely beat Clinton like a rented mule. But Trump’s negatives—in the RealClearPolitics averages, 35 percent see him favorably, 58 percent unfavorably—along with his habit of digging his hole even deeper mean that what should be a very winnable race for Republicans instead has become one dependent upon a cataclysmic event, perhaps an act of God, in order to win. That is never an enviable position to be in. Right now, it is looking more like a referendum on Trump.
That’s why the RealClearPolitics average, as of Thursday afternoon, showed Clinton ahead by 6 points in a two-way matchup, 48 to 42 percent. Clinton’s averages jumped up a bit with the inclusion of the Fox News poll released Wednesday night showing the former secretary of State ahead by 10 points, 49 to 39 percent, up from a 6-point lead in their previous poll, taken June 26-28.
Six points is not a landslide, but there is plenty of data suggesting that this race is stabilizing in a way that implies that Trump’s support isn’t very elastic above where it is now. For all of the MSM-bashers on the right (that’s “mainstream media” to readers that are not Fox or talk radio aficionados), let’s just look at the latest Fox News poll with three questions particularly worth noting. First, on qualifications, 65 percent of voters saw Clinton as qualified, and 35 percent did not (for a net of plus-30) compared to just 43 percent who saw Trump as qualified and 58 percent who said he was not (net minus-15). Second, look at being “honest and trustworthy,” presumably Clinton’s glass jaw, 36 percent said she was honest and trustworthy while 61 percent said she was not (net minus-25), but an equal 36 percent said Trump was honest and trustworthy, and 62 percent said he was not (net minus-26). Finally, 64 percent saw Clinton as having the temperament to serve effectively, and 34 percent said she didn’t (net plus-30); by contrast, just 37 percent saw Trump as having the temperament to be an effective president, and 61 percent said he did not (net minus-24).
Reports that Trump’s fundraising numbers have suddenly turned up and that his grassroots supporters have begun to send in tons of small donations—enough to, it is said, roughly equal Hillary Clinton’s take for the month—are nice for Trump, but he isn’t behind for a lack of money. Money was about No. 4 or 5 on his list of problems. It is his own behavior, his own words that are making a tough race even tougher.
So is this race “over?” No it isn’t, but that is more a question of semantics or metaphysics than it is about the actual state of this campaign.