If you haven’t heard Donald Trump lately speak boastfully about his poll numbers to the extent that you’re almost driven to distraction, it’s only because his numbers have been looking awfully bad these days against those of Hillary Clinton. In hypothetical head-to-head match-up against the former secretary of state, either nationwide or in the battleground states, Trump has nothing but tales of woe to relate to you, hence he’s chosen to remain mum on the issue. Quite unlike what you witnessed during the GOP primaries when Trump’s 16 opponents never got a level look at him again once he had surged past them. At campaign rallies, even on the debate stage, Trump never missed an opportunity to torture his opponents with talk of how atrocious their poll numbers were and of how soon they would fall off the cliff.
At a CNN-held Republican debate in Las Vegas last December, Trump said to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush during a heated exchange between the two: “I’m at 42 and you’re at 3. So I’m doing better… You started off over here, Jeb,” Trump went on, pointing to the center of the stage reserved for the candidate leading in the polls. “You’re moving over further and further. Pretty soon, you are going to be off the end.” When Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator went into a feisty slanging match with him over his character and temperament during another debate, Trump said of him: “He’s got 1 per cent in the polls, and now he got up here? There’s far too many people anyway.” Later, Trump tweeted: “Prediction: Rand Paul has been driven out of the race by my statements about him — he will announce soon. 1%!”
Well, in the next couple of days, and weeks, perhaps, all that could change: the reticent Trump could become boisterously garrulous again about you know what — his new poll numbers. From now on, look for Trump to preface every speech at his campaign rallies with how he has now drawn even — or is beating Clinton — in a slew of battleground polls released in the last twenty four hours alone.
In the latest Quinnipiac University poll published yesterday morning on the state of the race in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, the three most important battleground states that could decide who becomes president on November 8, Trump led Clinton by 1 percentage point in Ohio, 6 percentage points in Pennsylvania, and 5 percentage points in Florida. This is a dramatic reversal of fortunes for Clinton who in the previous Quinnipiac polls released on June 21 had led Trump in two of the three states. The Florida result should particularly leave Clinton worried and make Trump somewhat hysterical with glee. In that last poll, Clinton was ahead of Trump by 8 percentage points (47 – 39). The latest results show she has hemorrhaged a whopping 13 percentage points. Quinnipiac also released a new set of poll data this morning showing Democratic senate candidates losing by double digits to their Republican opponents in those three states.
Next to Rasmussen, I have always considered Quinnipiac to be an outlier. Getting into the weeds, you sometimes find that Quinnipiac gives short shrift to minority vote samples while working with an unusually large sample of the White vote in states where turnout by the former could potentially surpass anything we have ever seen in previous presidential elections.
Other battleground and national polls tell a story that is different from Quinnipiac’s understanding of where things are right now. Those polls have the two candidates either basically tied, or show Clinton comfortably ahead in the same states. For example, in Pennsylvania where Quinnipiac says Clinton is losing to Trump by 6 percentage points, she’s actually favored over Trump by 9 percentage points in a new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll released yesterday, while Fox News and Monmouth University polls have the former secretary of state leading the real estate businessman in the battleground state of Colorado by 10 and 13 percentage points respectively.
Of course, polls are a snapshot in time, and both candidates will continue to swap places many times over more than three months before Election Day. But this emerging state of affairs should give the Clinton campaign and those rooting for her victory serious cause for worry. Her sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatic, dwindling numbers have a lot to do with her “honesty” and trustworthiness”, two character issues emanating from her use of a private email server that has been under relentless Republican witch-hunt in the name of investigation for more than a year. Republicans have never smelled a Clinton “scandal” they didn’t like.
Even while saying Clinton had not committed a prosecutable offence after probing her use of a private server for a year, James Comey, the FBI director, handed the Republicans a kryptonite with which to kill Clinton politically when he described her conduct as “extremely careless”. In a new New York Times/CBS News poll released this morning, Clinton’s 6 percentage points advantage over Trump last month has been erased. Both candidates are deadlocked at 40 percentage points on who should be president. The paper writes: “As Mrs. Clinton prepares to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination at the convention in Philadelphia this month, she will confront an electorate in which 67 percent of voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. That number is up five percentage points from a CBS News poll conducted last month, before the F.B.I. released its findings.”
During their convention next week, expect Trump and the Republicans to shout the Comey phrase from the rooftop until the cows come home. But those are not the only words coined on the tongue of Comey that will be trumpeted at the convention and given free rein in negative ads, all aimed at further taking Clinton several pegs down on “competence” for the job of president, her major strength against Trump. When the Republicans dragged Comey to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week on why he had refused to bring up charges against Clinton, it was not just because they were upset over the director’s failure to do so, but mainly because they wanted to mine his tongue for more destructive ammunition against Clinton, and they got more than what they sought. For instance, the FBI director described the former first lady, former senator from New York, and former secretary of state as “not sophisticated enough” to handle classified documents. “Certainly, she should have known not to send classified information,” Comey told the Committee, adding, “I think she was extremely careless. I think she was negligent. That, I could establish. What we can’t establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent.”
Pretty damaging stuff indeed. But the good news is that almost as soon as the Republicans finish congregating in Cleveland, the Democrats will gather in Philadelphia for their own convention. There, they will hold bullhorns to their mouths and blare out the mantra, Trump’s temperamentally unfit to be president. The Clinton campaign’s use of “temperamentally unfit” to describe Trump, so far, has worked like a charm, and there’s no reason why the Democrats shouldn’t continue to use that. Many months ago before he endorsed Clinton and began to show a willingness to insert himself in the race to replace him, President Barack Obama, I said, will be Clinton’s most lethal weapon against Trump, both as a positive character witness for her, and as the best person who can most successfully prosecute the case that Trump doesn’t have what it takes to be president of the most powerful nation in the world. The president will campaign his heart out for Clinton, and that could make a huge difference. In the last analysis, the contest will come down to a binary choice: An imperfect Clinton or a dangerous Trump? Nothing illustrates that choice better than the following ad rolled out just a few hours ago by the Clinton campaign titled, “Role Models.”
An ad like the one above should help a rational mind to decide wisely. There’s no doubt there are still millions of rational minds left in America in an election season so unusual and befuddling as the current one.