The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Despite emails, Republicans still think Trump will lose. Here’s why.

The Post’s Matt Zapotosky breaks down the unknowns following the FBI’s announcement on Oct. 28 that it will renew its Hillary Clinton email probe. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)


FBI agents have now obtained a warrant to examine the new emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, and it now appears possible that the FBI will share more information about the new significance of those emails — or lack thereof — before Election Day. Maddeningly, we don’t even know whether that will happen — sources are now hinting they may tell us more soon, but it’s not definitive — adding layer upon layer of uncertainty in the final stretch.

But either way, some senior GOP strategists appear convinced that the new revelations — if that’s even the right word for the news — won’t shift the fundamentals of the race in a dramatic enough way to enable Donald Trump to win. With polls showing the race tightening, probably because disaffected Republican voters are coming back to Trump, Politico has a rundown on what these GOP strategists think this tightening really means and what comes next:

“I’d characterize it more as Trump consolidating some of the available anti-Clinton vote as opposed to Clinton’s support eroding,” said GOP strategist Bruce Haynes. “Now the question is do people interpret this news in a way that raises enough doubts about Clinton’s judgment to cut into her number. Because it’s not enough for Trump’s number to move up. Hers has to go down.”…
“One thing that really hasn’t changed is their ‘unfavorables’ this entire campaign, hovering within 3-4 points of one another. And their ‘strongly unfavorable’ have continued to grow: He’s over 50 percent and she’s almost at 50 percent,” said Ed Goeas, a GOP pollster in Washington. “Barring something like a true indictment of her or him being caught today fondling some woman, I just don’t think anything is going to change the fundamentals, which favor Clinton.”
“It’s not just the electoral map,” Goeas continued. “The thing about polling is: polling assumes both campaigns are equal. You look at quality of surrogates, money raised, ground game — she has an advantage in all that. So you basically have to look at the polling and say it reflects the worst-case scenario for her.”
“She was knocking on 400 electoral votes; that’s going to slide back,” said Steve Schmidt, the GOP strategist who guided John McCain’s 2008 campaign….Schmidt now predicts Clinton winding up with somewhere between 338 and 350 electoral votes. “It’s just really unlikely that there is an undecided bloc of voters still weighing Hillary Clinton’s emails. I think everyone made up their minds a long time ago on that subject.”

The early polling returns — and I stress that they are early — seem to support this general read. The latest Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll finds a dead heat nationally between the two candidates, but crucially, polling taken after the news broke of FBI director James Comey’s letter is not statistically different from polling taken before it. A new Morning Consult poll taken entirely after that news broke finds Clinton leading Trump by three points nationally — unchanged from before.

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, a CBS poll taken after the news came out found that in 13 battleground states, 71 percent of respondents either say the news won’t change their vote or that they’ve already voted. And CBS also found: “Most of those who say they’re less likely to vote for Clinton are Republicans, who are not supporting her anyway.” This finding also came up in Post/ABC tracking released yesterday: Only one-third of voters say the news will impact their vote, but the vast majority of those are Republicans and GOP-leaning independents.

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Basically, two things can be true at the same time: First, the news might not make that big a difference. Second, the race actually is tightening, but for different reasons — primarily that Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who had drifted away from Trump were already coming back to him, because the awful headlines that accompanied the release of the sex tape and charges of unwanted advances have faded. This dovetails with the read of those GOP strategists above.

There are two other factors to consider, however. One might be good for Clinton; the other might be good for Trump. The first is that the news could jolt some Democratic voters out of complacency, persuading them that she might still lose, which could help goose early voting and/or turnout and perhaps get some who might have voted for a minor party candidate to vote for her, to keep Trump out of the White House. The Clinton campaign is using the news to try to make that happen.

The second big factor: the FBI might release more information in coming days. If there’s something serious in the emails, then all bets are off. But even if the FBI says that most of the emails are duplicates and that there’s nothing significant here, that could further rev up Republican voters who will be stoked into a fury. Trump will escalate his ongoing claims that the election is rigged by alleging an FBI cover-up. In this scenario, Trump will have gone from bashing the FBI as corrupt (for not originally suggesting criminal charges); to hailing the FBI’s bravery in revisiting the issue (in the wake of the latest news); to bashing the FBI as corrupt again. Republican voters will effortlessly glide through these contortions along with Trump, and may be energized by such an outcome.

I stress again that these latest polling returns are early. We very well could see national polls showing Trump ahead in coming days. If so, don’t overreact — remember, in a tightening race, some polls will be good for Trump. Keep focused on the polling averages, both national and in the battleground states. And watch the fundamentals outlined above by GOP strategists. Especially the early voting, which seems to be revealing a clear Clinton ground game advantage.


* CLINTON HOLDS SLIM EDGE IN EARLY VOTING: The New York Times does the deep dive. Some 21 million people have already voted; Dems are outperforming relative to 2012 in Florida; and lead in North Carolina, Nevada, and Colorado. Note this:

Clinton aides said they had created a battleground-state model that scores voters based on factors such as their likelihood of voting and their susceptibility to advertising. So far, among those the Clinton campaign sees as least likely to turn out — people who have skipped nonpresidential elections — Democrats are voting in far greater numbers than Republicans in both North Carolina and Nevada, and in slightly larger numbers in Arizona.

This is the key — getting out the voters who might otherwise not have voted. If this holds, it may mean Trump’s “missing white voters” won’t be enough.

* FBI GETS WARRANT TO SEARCH NEW EMAILS: Commenting on the news that FBI has now gotten a warrant to read the newly discovered emails, the Post notes:

Investigators will now look at whether the newly uncovered emails contain classified information or other evidence that could help advance the Clinton email probe. It is possible, though, that the messages could be duplicative of others already recovered elsewhere or that they could be a collection of benign, personal notes.

If that latter scenario does come to pass, Comey’s vague letter to Congress will look even worse. The question now is whether we learn more in time for the election.

*  FORMER ATTORNEYS GENERAL SLAM COMEY: Eric Holder and a group of other former Attorneys General have written a letter bashing James Comey’s decision to alert Congress of new emails in the closing days of the election. Key point:

We cannot recall a prior instance where a senior Justice Department official — Republican or Democrat — has, on the eve of a major election, issued a public statement where the mere disclosure of information may impact the election’s outcome, yet the official acknowledges the information to be examined may not be significant or new.

Not only did Comey acknowledge that the info might not be significant; he also said it “appears to be pertinent,” which essentially invited Republicans and news orgs to hype it to the skies.

* CLINTON LEADS IN NORTH CAROLINA: A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll finds Clinton leading Trump among likely voters in North Carolina by 47-41. And a new CBS News poll finds Clinton up there by 48-45.

The polling averages put her up here by 2.6 points. The question is whether this lead is big enough to withstand the new FBI stories. However: NBC finds Clinton leading by 61-33 among the 29 percent who have already voted early here.

* MIXED POLLS IN FLORIDA: A new Upshot/Siena poll finds Trump has taken the lead among likely voters in Florida, 46-42. But a new NBC poll finds Clinton leading in Florida by one point, 45-44.

The polling averages put Clinton up by nearly three points here, however, so we’ll need to see more polls before confirming whether Trump is really ahead. Still, remember: Trump must win both Florida and North Carolina to retain any plausible path.

*  CLINTON LEADS IN PENNSYLVANIA AND COLORADO: New CBS News polls also find Clinton leading among likely voters in Pennsylvania by 48-40, and in Colorado by 42-39. The polling averages put Clinton up by over six points in Pennsylvania and up by over five points in Colorado.

If Clinton can hold Pennsylvania and Colorado, plus Virginia (where she’s also comfortably ahead), she probably only needs one more (New Hampshire, North Carolina, or Nevada) to win.

* RIGHT WING PRESSURE WORKS: Paul Krugman brings some key context to the debate over Comey’s latest actions, reminding us that Comey was bashed endlessly for declining to recommend charges against Clinton’s email set up:

Mr. Comey was subjected to a constant barrage of demands that he prosecute her for … something. He should simply have said no. Instead, even while announcing back in July that no charges would be filed, he editorialized about her conduct — a wholly inappropriate thing to do, but probably an attempt to appease the right. It didn’t work, of course. They just demanded more.

Whatever Comey’s real motives, now Republicans have indeed gotten more — a letter that said nothing about the actual relevance of the new info, but allowed Republicans to spin it into the false claim that a criminal probe has been “reopened.”

The career of James Comey as FBI director

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15: FBI Director James Comey leaves a closed door meeting with Senators at the U.S. Capitol on March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a closed door meeting about the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)