Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

It’s another poll freakout day, apparently: The new New York Times/CBS poll finds that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now tied among registered voters nationally, at 40-40, with the email story taking an obvious toll on Clinton’s numbers. The key findings:

Mrs. Clinton’s six-percentage-point lead over the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, in a CBS News poll last month has evaporated. The two candidates are now tied in a general election matchup, the new poll indicates, with each receiving the support of 40 percent of voters….

Just 28 percent of voters said they had a positive view of Mrs. Clinton, compared with 33 percent last month. Asked if her email practices were illegal, 46 percent of voters said yes, compared with 23 percent who said using a private server was improper but not illegal. Twenty-four percent said she did nothing wrong.

Those are awful numbers. But as even some conservatives (who oppose Trump) quickly pointed out on twitter, the real story here is that even if Clinton is sinking, Trump is not rising. As John Podhoretz noted, the Times poll confirms that “Hillary is deflating,” but “Trump isn’t gaining.” Or as conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace put it, Clinton is dropping because of the FBI findings, but Trump’s numbers are “still dreadful as always.” As polling analyst Will Jordan noted, until Trump breaks out of the high 30s and (extremely) low 40s, there’s no clear grounds for Dems to panic.

I’ve drawn up a chart to make the point, using Huffpollster’s national polling averages:


Beyond the fact that Clinton still holds a lead after getting hit by sustained awful coverage, note that Trump has not hit 43 percent since last winter, and has not hit 42 percent since the spring. He remains at around 40 percent right now. Meanwhile, Clinton has fluctuated, hitting highs of 48 percent and 47 percent several times. She’s sliding now, but as Deace noted, that may reflect current negative information about her now bombarding voters. It could reverse again, just as it has in the past.

This basic difference isn’t just evident in the national polls. Mark Murray and the First Read Crew took a hard look at the multiple state polls released yesterday (which also prompted a freak-out), and concluded that while Trump is closing the gap, there is also this crucial point:

These polls — which mostly show Clinton either ahead or tied in these battlegrounds — were all taken during or after Clinton’s roughest week of the general election, with FBI Director James Comey’s rebuke over her emails. So you could view these battleground numbers as a floor for Clinton, while Trump is still unable to break 40% in many of these states.

This core dynamic is central to how Democrats view this race. They have undertaken a concerted effort to drive up Trump’s negatives with the explicit goal of preventing him from expanding his appeal. That’s why the pro-Clinton Super PAC, Priorities USA, has been pumping many millions of dollars of ads into the battleground states, ads that use Trump’s own words and antics to sow deep doubts about his temperament and fitness to be president.

The goal is to prevent Trump, whose campaign is all about winning blue collar whites in the industrial Midwest, from making inroads among college educated whites, which would limit the potential of Trump’s strategy of courting white backlash. (This may also drive up turnout and Clinton’s vote share among nonwhite voters, which would make the white-backlash strategy even tougher to pull off.) Polls suggest Trump may end up being the first GOP nominee in decades to lose among college educated whites — see Ron Brownstein’s terrific analysis on this point — and Democrats are targeting suburban and Republican women in particular to try to make this happen.

As Paul Begala, a senior adviser to Priorities USA, put it to me in an interview: “Trump wants to build a wall. I want to build a ceiling.”

Now, it is of course very possible that Trump will begin to rise, or that Clinton will continue falling. Things could change once Team Trump starts spending big on ads and Team Clinton’s ad barrage no longer goes unanswered. But the point is that, even if it is true that Clinton is sliding, there is still no evidence that Trump can expand his appeal in the manner he needs to. And that’s why senior Democratic pollsters are not terribly alarmed and believe we can’t really have a clear sense of where this race is going until the conventions have passed. We will learn whether Trump really can consolidate moderate Republicans who may be struggling to come to terms with him, and grow.

Meanwhile, the efforts to keep that ceiling firmly affixed in place are continuing today, with a new Clinton ad campaign. But that brings us to our next item.

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* NEW HILLARY AD RIPS TRUMP WITH HIS OWN WORDS: Hillary Clinton is out with a tough new ad showing puzzled little children watching footage of Trump boasting about violence at his own rallies, cursing, and mocking a disabled reporter. It then shows Clinton saying that our children will look back on the choices we make now: “We need to make sure that they can be proud of us.”

The ad, which will run in eight battleground states, is a reminder that Dems believe the most lethal weapon against Trump is his own words. This one looks aimed at suburban and Republican women, a key swing constituency.

* LIST OF GUEST SPEAKERS SUGGESTS THRILLING GOP CONVENTION: Jeremy Peters obtains a list of speakers set to appear at the GOP convention. Among them: Former football star Tim Tebow, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Senator Tom Cotton, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Scott Walker, a whole bunch of Trumps, and last but decidedly not least, Senator Joni Ernst.

Special bonus preview that will have millions of Americans grinding their teeth with anticipation and excitement: The convention will feature presentations on Benghazi and, as the Times puts it, “former President Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct.”

* MANY GOP SENATORS SKIPPING CONVENTION: The Associated Press rounds up all the GOP Senators who are skipping the festivities in Cleveland, and comments:

The level of rank-and-file congressional defections from this year’s Republican convention is unusually high. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, given the GOP establishment’s well-documented discomfort with the man who stands on the cusp of becoming their presidential standard-bearer. But in the halls of the Capitol this week, some senators seemed to visibly squirm when asked about their convention plans.

This suggests that the GOP convention could have less success in consolidating GOP voters than the Democratic convention will at unifying Dem voters.

 * QUOTE OF THE DAY, GOP-CONVENTION-AS-HOSTAGE-CRISIS EDITION: Speaking of Republicans skipping the convention, here’s GOP strategist Rick Wilson:

“Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren — they’re all going to be out there swinging for the fences. But the Republicans, it’ll be like a hostage video of people forced on stage.”

That contrast really could end up influencing voter perceptions of the two candidates, too.

* GOP GEARS UP TO ATTACK CLINTON VEEP PICK: NBC News’s Alex Seitz-Wald gets an early look at how Republicans plan to attack Clinton’s running mate. Here’s the short version: Tim Kaine (career politician and lightweight); Labor Secretary Tom Perez (supports progressive labor policies that would be “bad for business”; Sherrod Brown (raging liberal and extreme partisan).

And, of course, the attack line on Elizabeth Warren: She’s a raging liberal and supposedly lied about her Native American heritage. Because that worked so well when she ran for the Senate in the first place.

* AMERICANS HATE CLINTON AND TRUMP: A new Associated Press poll finds:

Eighty-one percent of Americans say they would feel afraid following the election of one of the two polarizing politicians….Fifty-seven percent have an unfavorable view of Clinton, compared to 37 percent who have a favorable view. Sixty-three percent have a negative view of Trump, compared to the 31 percent who think well of him.

This should be an enjoyable four months.

* POLL FACTOID OF THE DAY, TRUMP-IS-A-UNITER EDITION: Mark Murray flags this amazing finding:

Zero.

That’s the percentage of African-American voters who picked Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls.

That awesome white backlash strategy is working!