THE MORNING PLUM:
A fresh round of hand-wringing among Democrats broke out over the weekend, and at the core of it was the same old storyline that we keep hearing again and again: Donald Trump is unconventional and unpredictable! The normal political rules don’t apply! Democrats are getting caught off guard by this, and you should be terrified!
But what if Hillary Clinton’s national advantage over Trump is actually larger than it appears? And, more to the point, what if the reason for this is a thoroughly conventional one?
NBC’s Chuck Todd and Dante Chinni have served up a useful analysis of the current national polls that suggests this is a very real possibility. They looked at three recent polls that currently show the race very close: The NBC News poll showing Clinton up 46-43 among registered voters; the New York Times/CBS poll showing her up 47-41; and the Fox News poll putting Trump up 45-42.
But then Todd and Chinni took into account the fact that a sizable chunk of people supporting Sanders are now saying they cannot back Clinton. These are the “Sanders-only voters.” They took the additional step of assuming that Clinton wins back 70 percent of those voters. Here’s what happens to the national numbers:
In the NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton’s advantage over Trump goes from three points to eight points and she leads 51 percent to 43 percent….
In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, Clinton’s advantage grows from six points to nine points with 70 percent of Sanders-only voters — she leads 50 percent to 41 percent. In the latest Fox News poll, where Trump currently leads Clinton, the Sanders-only voters make it a tied race — 45 percent to 45 percent.
Now, in my view, we shouldn’t place too much stock in national polling at this point, because it historically has not been predictive. But if we are going to obsess over it, let’s keep this in mind: In two of these polls, once you allow for the possibility that Clinton could win over many of Sanders’s supporters once he concedes and endorses her, Clinton holds sizable national leads, of eight and nine points. Nate Cohn has similarly concluded that, if Clinton can consolidate Sanders supporters behind her, she could gain a “considerable advantage” against Trump.
And we’ve seen this before: As Todd notes in his video presentation of these numbers, in 2008, Barack Obama picked up three points against John McCain in NBC polling after Clinton surrendered in the primaries.
If this is right, the point is that the tightening in the polls between Clinton and Trump — which is real — may reflect a particular moment in this race that may prove fleeting, in ways we’ve seen in the past. To be sure, Democrats should not underestimate Trump or imagine that defeating him will be easy. They should work to determine the true source of his appeal, i.e., his suggestion that our political and economic system is failing people and he’d snap it over his knee and get it working again. They should work on making an affirmative case for Clinton that addresses this voter dissatisfaction in addition to relying on the low hanging fruit of attacking his business past and highlighting his wretched comments. Nor does any of this mean that Clinton’s high negatives aren’t a real problem. Democrats should obviously be prepared for any manner of attack that Trump will throw at her, and they’ll need to figure out how to create a more positive narrative around her.
Rather, the point is that we should stop over-inflating impressions of Trump’s strength. We should stop ascribing magical political powers to Trump based on the questionable notion that his “unconventional” and “unpredictable” campaign makes him a more formidable foe than anyone expected. Trump will be difficult to beat, but that might be mainly because these elections are always hard. It is perfectly plausible that the “old rules” will end up applying to some degree. For instance, Clinton may be able to beat Trump, at least in part, by offering up more convincing policies and revealing his to be the nonsense that they are. Maybe assuming that Trump has rendered policy debates meaningless actually gives him too much credit. Maybe we shouldn’t accept Trump’s boasts of super-human appeal in the Rust Belt at face value: they may well run headlong into demographic realities. Meanwhile, we should keep focused on what the aggregate data is actually telling us.
One other point: The Todd/Chinni analysis could have important implications for the endgame of the Dem primaries. Once the voting is over in June, Sanders will have nothing left to do but win actual concessions in exchange for working to swing his supporters behind Clinton. You could see a real shift in how this race is covered, with more and more analysts — and high profile party leaders, such as Elizabeth Warren, and, yes, Barack Obama — pointing out that the failure to unite Democrats is making the prospect of a Trump presidency more likely. That could make it harder for Sanders to hold out. We don’t know if Sanders’s supporters will get behind Clinton in the numbers she needs, and she will have to do her part to make that happen. But despite all the tensions, Sanders, too, will probably end up doing all he can to ensure that it does.
* HOW TEAM HILLARY VIEWS TRUMP: The Post reports that the Clinton team is grappling with a strategic challenge: How to persuade voters that she is a change agent when she’s been a creature of the establishment for so long. Note this from Clinton Super PAC pollster Geoff Garin:
“Their approach to change is very different. Donald Trump is a blow-the-place-up kind of guy, and that’s not who Hillary Clinton is or ever will be. At the end of the day, Trump’s version of blowing the place up will become justifiably frightening to voters.”
The Clinton team bets that her methodical approach will come to be seen as preferable to Trump’s wrecking ball — which will be depicted in increasingly frightening ways in coming months.
* IS TEAM HILLARY SWEATING A LOSS IN CALIFORNIA? With the California primary one week from today, the Clinton campaign is acting like a loss is a real possibility:
Clinton originally planned to campaign for two days this week in New Jersey, but at the last minute canceled an event on Thursday and will instead return to California for a five-day swing….Details are scarce, but Clinton now plans to hold events in California from Thursday until the day before the state’s June 7 primary.
Of course, no matter what happens, the outcome will be close, which means Clinton will all but certainly be projected by the networks to have won the Dem nomination that evening.
* WHY CLINTON MUST WIN CALIFORNIA: The First Read crew spells it out:
Here’s the reason why Clinton needs to beat Sanders in California next week: She doesn’t want to give him any legitimate rationale to remain in the race beyond June 7 or June 14 (the final primary in DC).
Also, a Clinton loss in California may lead many Sanders supporters to dig in behind the (fanciful) idea that the super-delegates should shift the nomination to him.
* BERNIE: ‘OF COURSE’ HILLARY IS FAR BETTER THAN TRUMP: This quote from Bernie Sanders on NBC News is worth noting:
“If your question is, do I think that Secretary Clinton is significantly a better candidate for America than is Donald Trump, that is not a debate. Of course that is true.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Sanders’s more ardent supporters listen to him on this point, once the reality of a Clinton nomination sinks in.
* THE NEVER TRUMP FORCES WON’T QUIT: CNN reports that the Never Trump forces continue to try to find their own candidate, but multiple possible choices (Mitt Romney, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Senator Jeff Sessons), are turning them down. What’s more:
The efforts to recruit an independent conservative candidate come as Republican establishment figures increasingly coalesce around Trump’s bid….logistical hurdles to an independent bid are increasing. Ballot deadlines for independent candidates have either passed or soon will.
But Bill Kristol, a leader of the Never Trumpers, continues to insist a candidate will materialize. This alone infuriated Trump, who unleashed a Tweetstorm at Kristol over the weekend.
* McCONNELL TELLS REPUBLICANS NOT TO RUN FROM TRUMP: Should Republicans try to distance themselves from Trump? It’s a bad idea, says Mitch McConnell in an interview with USA Today’s Susan Page:
“I think that would be a mistake,” McConnell says, “because, obviously, you would like the people who are voting for your candidate for president to vote for you.” He reassures Republicans nervous about…their nominee’s ideology and temperament that a President Trump “would be fine.”
This is the nub of the problem: If down-ticket Republicans run from Trump, they threaten to further damage the top of the ticket, and themselves with it. Oh, and he’ll be just fine as president, don’t worry about it!
* SHOCKER! TRUMP MIGHT NOT BE AS RICH AS HE CLAIMS: Politico’s Ben White does the legwork:
Trump claims a net worth of more than $10 billion and income of $557 million. But he appears to get there only by over-valuing properties and ignoring his expenses. POLITICO spoke with more than a dozen financial experts and Trump’s fellow multi-millionaires about the presumptive Republican nominee’s financial statement. Their conclusion: the real estate magnate’s bottom line – what he actually puts in his own pocket – could be much lower than he suggests. Some financial analysts said this, and a very low tax rate, is why Trump won’t release his tax returns.
Nothing matters to Trump more than being perceived as a winner, so don’t expect him to release those returns anytime soon.