Following a five-primary sweep Tuesday night, Donald Trump repeatedly insisted that he would beat Hillary Clinton “so easily,” because she is a crooked politician and a flawed candidate whom people do not like. It is undoubtedly true that Clinton is beatable. By her own admission, she is “not a natural politician.” But that does not mean that Trump can beat her, let alone easily.
Trump offered a few arguments for his electability in his Tuesday victory speech. He made the familiar case that he would attract votes from white, working-class men. He talked about traveling around New York and seeing hollowed-out industrial towns. He reminded his audience that Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he linked to the economic hardship among blue-collar workers. With his usual lack of detail, he insisted that he would force companies to stop outsourcing manufacturing jobs. Taking his populism in a slightly new direction, he made a play for Bernie Sanders voters, talking about how Clinton “is funded by Wall Street” and insisting that “The Democrats have treated Bernie very badly.” He also painted Clinton as incompetent. “She knows nothing about jobs, except jobs for herself,” he said. “She doesn’t have the strength, she doesn’t have the stamina…to deal with China or other things.” Trump predicted that he would put states such as New York in play in the general election.
This is a fantasy. It is highly unlikely that white working class Democrats who have not already defected to the Republican Party are likely to do so now. After reviewing survey data, political scientist Charlotte Cavaillé concluded that, rather than causing a defection of blue-collar Democrats into his camp, Trump is mostly benefiting from defections that have already happened. His only hope would be “dramatically increasing the turnout among the younger and politically unaffiliated white working class,” she concluded. Given that Trump is the least popular candidate among the general public, with poor favorability numbers even among white men, that probably would not be enough.
What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail
Trump would have to use gains among blue-collar voters to offset losses among minorities and women, among others. He did little to offer minority voters, particularly Latinos, a reason to change their feelings toward him Tuesday night, repeating his familiar talking points on immigration. But he did discuss women. As usual, he insisted that he would be great for women. But then he said this about Clinton: “The only card she has is the women’s card.” He insisted that she would not get 5 percent of the vote if she were a man. It is not clear whether he was trying to appeal to women or men. It could be that he wants to stoke resentment among men who see talk of women’s issues as inappropriate identity politics. But he could also be attempting to stoke resentment among women who feel as though Clinton expects them to vote for her based on their shared gender, a sentiment that circulated among some Sanders voters during the New Hampshire primaries. His conclusion hinted at the latter intent: “The beautiful thing is, women don’t like her,” Trump said.
Except women really don’t like Trump. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 69 percent of women view the GOP frontrunner negatively. His campaign appears to believe that he can turn his negatives around. But his numbers are historically bad. Trump may think that he can fool most of the people, but he has only shown that he can fool some of the people.
Trump is right that Clinton is a vulnerable opponent. What he does not realize, or does not admit, is that he is even weaker.