THE MORNING PLUM:
As the GOP convention gets underway in Cleveland today, three national polls released over the weekend showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump: A CNN poll putting Clinton up by 49-42; an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll putting her up by 46-41; and a Washington Post/ABC News poll putting her up by 47-43.
But buried beneath the toplines is evidence of another dynamic that gets at something important about the state of this race: While both Clinton and Trump are very unpopular, large majorities in two of these polls believe that only one of them is qualified for the presidency, and equally large majorities believe that the other one is not.
The new WaPo poll finds, for instance, that Americans say by 59-39 that Clinton is “qualified to serve as president,” but they also say by 60-37 that Trump is “not qualified to serve as president.”
The WaPo poll also finds that 59 percent of Americans say that Clinton has the “better personality and temperament to serve effectively as president,” while only 28 percent of Americans say that about Trump.
Meanwhile, the new CNN poll finds that Americans say by 64-36 that Clinton “has the right experience to be president.” But they say by 67-32 that Trump does not have “the right experience to be president.”
This is the story that lurks underneath the widespread lament that Americans are unhappy with the two candidates. It’s true that both are disliked: These polls show, variously, that Clinton and Trump are both viewed very negatively; that neither is seen as more trustworthy than the other; that majorities would not be proud to have either as president; and that majorities think both are out of touch with everyday Americans’ problems. They also show vulnerabilities for Clinton in certain areas: For instance, Trump is favored more on the economy, and the email story has raised serious concerns for many voters about Clinton’s judgment. But regardless, only one of the two candidates is seen, by large margins, to be qualified for the job, while the other one is seen as unqualified by margins that are at least as large.
This could end up mattering. Nate Silver recently suggested a useful framework for thinking about this campaign: One way Trump might be able to win is if Americans “come to view the race as one between two equally terrible choices, instead of Trump being uniquely unacceptable.” One way that might not come to pass is if majorities of Americans — while disliking and mistrusting both — continue believing that Trump, unlike Clinton, is simply unfit for the job on a very fundamental level. That’s how Trump might remain a “uniquely unacceptable” choice for president in the eyes of a majority of Americans.
This is more or less where we are right now. Obviously there is no guarantee that it will hold. In fact, one way of judging whether Trump’s convention succeeds might be to look at whether he manages to alter these basic perceptions, which surely will be a key goal of the gathering.
* CLINTON HOLDS A ‘MODEST BUT CLEAR LEAD’: Nate Cohn takes stock of all the polling, which seems contradictory and confusing but actually tells a story: Clinton holds a “modest but clear lead.” Also note:
On balance, Mrs. Clinton is excelling in diverse and well-educated states like Virginia, Colorado and even North Carolina. But she is struggling to match Mr. Obama in less educated or less diverse places in the Midwest and Northeast, like Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, or even Maine’s Second Congressional District. Yet Mrs. Clinton appears to be tied or ahead even in these states. The combination gives her a strong advantage in the Electoral College.
The key will be whether Clinton is holding this lead after the conventions. Then we’ll know a lot more.
* OBAMA’S APPROVAL IS RISING: The new WaPo/ABC poll has Obama’s approval at 56 percent, and the new NBC poll has Obama’s approval at 51 percent. Naturally, the speakers at the GOP convention will spend four straight days describing the Obama presidency as a full blown, irredeemable disaster, since it cannot possibly be true (in the minds of Republicans, anyway) that a majority approves of his performance.
* GOP CONVENTION TO EMPHASIZE ‘LAW AND ORDER’: The New York Times reports that after the killing of three Louisiana police officers, the GOP convention will emphasize a “law and order” theme. Trump is already on a twitter rampage. But:
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has long battled criticism of his volcanic temper and questions about his temperament and readiness for the presidency, and it was unclear if a thunderous response to the shooting in Louisiana will help allay voters’ concerns. While Republicans often run on law-and-order themes, an indelicate approach could carry considerable danger at a moment of such unusual political instability.
Wait, but all Trump has to do is thump his chest and vow to be “strong,” and he’ll soar in the polls, right?
* CLEVELAND POLICE WORRY ABOUT ‘OPEN CARRY’: Bloomberg reports:
In the wake of the shootings in Louisiana, the president of the Cleveland police union said he planned to ask Kasich to declare a state of emergency and ban the open carrying of weapons during the convention, a request the governor said he can’t grant. “Law enforcement is a noble, essential calling and we all grieve that we’ve again seen attacks on officers,” Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said by e-mail. “Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested.”
Surely all those “good guys with guns” can only be a help in preventing things from getting out of hand.
* TIGHT IN BATTLEGROUND STATES, POLLS FIND: A new batch of CBS polls finds Clinton up in Ohio (44-40) and Michigan (42-39), with Trump ahead in Iowa (40-39). The averages show Clinton up two in Ohio, up seven in Michigan, and up three in Iowa.
As Clinton’s chief strategist Joel Benenson puts it: “They are battleground states for a reason.”
* VOTERS SHRUG AT TRUMP’S VEEP CHOICE: A new Gallup poll finds that only 37 percent of Americans see Indiana Governor Mike Pence as an “excellent” or “pretty good” choice, while more — 45 percent — rate him as “only fair” or “poor.” And:
One of the jobs of a running mate is to help the nominee fire up his or her political base, and it appears Pence has yet to achieve that. Just 27% of Republican voters call him an excellent choice for vice president.
Can’t you just feel the excitement building?
* DO REPUBLICANS SECRETLY FEAR A TRUMP VICTORY? E.J. Dionne has a nice look at the history of the GOP and the damage it may be doing to itself by nominating Trump. Note this:
Many Republicans oppose Trump because they see him as the one candidate most likely to lose to Hillary Clinton. But others fear something worse: a Trump victory. They know that his presidency would represent a grave danger to the republic, a repudiation of the most noble Republican aspirations, and the end of their party as a serious vehicle for governance. The GOP can survive a Trump defeat. It will never get over being permanently defined by his politics of flippant brutality.
This sentiment is probably more widespread than we think.
* AND ‘BOTH-SIDES-ISM’ REACHES NEW HEIGHTS OF ABSURDITY: Paul Krugman blasts media figures who refuse to acknowledge the fundamental, deep difference between the ways Trump and Clinton treat the media:
Mr. Trump has selectively banned news organizations he considers hostile; he has…attacked…individual reporters, and refused to condemn supporters who…have harassed reporters with anti-Semitic insults. Meanwhile, while Mrs. Clinton hasn’t done any of these things, and has a staff that readily responds to fact-checking questions, she doesn’t like to hold press conferences. Equivalence!…taking the position that “both sides do it” now, in the face of this campaign and this candidate, is an act of mind-boggling irresponsibility.
As I’ve argued, Trump threatens the institutional role of the media in a way Clinton does not, and it is deeply strange that those whose own role is threatened refuse to acknowledge this.