Donald Trump has become the default choice for voters in 2016. Just as Democrats and Republicans return home to their party as presidential campaigns wind deeper into fall, swing voters who can’t seem to select the best of two bad options always seem to wander back to Trump.
The GOP nominee had a rough spring, capped off by his attack on a “Mexican” judge who was actually born in Indiana. Trump’s poll numbers dropped, but over the next few weeks they slowly made their way back up into Clinton territory.
His inexplicable battle with a Gold Star mother and an American hero’s grieving family also earned Trump a precipitous drop in his standing with voters. But after exceeding for a time the extremely low expectations that voters have placed on him, Trump raced into September leading comfortably in states won comfortably by Barack Obama such as Ohio and Iowa, while making other states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania uncomfortably close for Clinton’s Brooklyn team. Despite his proposed Muslim ban, his feigned ignorance of David Duke, his attack on the Khans and his stubborn refusal to take the most basic steps to prepare for the humbling task of being president of the United States of America, Trump entered his first debate with Hillary Clinton in his strongest position yet.
Then came what some have called the worst week in the history of presidential politics. Trump gave a predictably rambling and incoherent performance in the second half of the first presidential debate last Monday. He spent the next several days fat-shaming a former beauty queen, started whining about a faulty microphone that none of the 80 million debate viewers noticed, and capped the week off by mocking Clinton’s health scare while using a throwaway line to accuse her of being an adulterer.
After that political week from hell, Trump has experienced a few drops in polls released in the past 24 hours. He’s once again down by double digits in Colorado. Florida has moved beyond the margin of error for Clinton for the first time in a while, and national polls also show a widening lead for the Democratic nominee. But despite a series of shameful episodes this week, Trump still leads in Ohio comfortably, he’s within the margin of error in North Carolina, and he’s staying within striking distance in Pennsylvania.
If I were a Clinton supporter or just an average citizen who doesn’t care to live out the plot line of a Cormac McCarthy novel, I would be very afraid. Given Trump’s behavior over the past week (and month and year), Trump should be down 20 points by now and the media should be speculating about Clinton’s cabinet choices. But that is not our fate. Instead, Americans seem to be buckling up for one more month of chaos, crude comments, leaked Democratic documents, the appeasement of Russian barbarism, ill-prepared debate performances and the worst presidential choice in U.S. history.
This week will show Trump falling further behind in the polls. But if the past is prologue, expect him to climb his way back into the race and keep elites and influencers on the edge of their seats until election night. Trump appears to be the default position for millions of voters. And if he stops working every day to drive them away over the next four weeks, Trump could still be elected the 45th president of the United States.