Last month, we suggested that “if [Hillary] Clinton keeps [Donald] Trump under 200 electoral votes and/or winds up with a popular vote percentage in the high 40s, it will be fair to call this if not a landslide, then a slam-dunk win.” At the time she was leading, but within the margin of error in most polls.
Until the first debate, a Clinton win in a close race seemed the most likely outcome. After the first debate, it looked like we were heading for a 2012-style win. (President Obama won by four points.) After the disastrous week following the first debate, many anticipated a 2008-type win. (Obama won by seven points.) Now many will ask: Is this 1980 (a victory by nearly nine points)?
In two national polls, Clinton has moved to a double-digit lead. In the RealClearPolitics average, her percentage is up to about 48 percent in a two-person race; in the Pollster.com average, she breaks 49 percent. According to the RCP electoral map with no toss-ups, she has 340 electoral votes to Trump’s 198. Yup, right now this looks more like Ronald Reagan’s 1980 romp than either of Obama’s wins.
Perhaps we are at the nadir of Trump’s popularity. In a few weeks, he might claw his way back to a five- or seven-point deficit. Clinton could have a poor third debate. She might make a notable gaffe, or alternatively play it too safe and lose momentum. Maybe there is something actually earthshaking yet to come out in a WikiLeaks/Kremlin oppo dump.
Then again, it’s entirely possibly things will get even worse for Trump for several reasons.
First, early voting is underway in many states. Before the last significant scheduled event in the race, the third debate (if there is one), early and absentee balloting will be almost at full strength. Coincidentally — or by design, if you fancy the Clinton camp as particularly skillful — she is surging as early voting peaks.
Second, Trump is now in burn-it-down mode. His campaign is now virtually identical to a talk-radio show or Fox Non-News nighttime show. It’s about re-litigating the 1990s, criminalizing Trump’s opponent, attacking the “establishment,” cooking up conspiracies (illegal immigrants are pouring over the border to vote!) and lionizing Trump because he “fights.” This is the land of right-wing nuttery that far too many Republicans inhabit. This is the province of Trump’s core base (less educated older white men) and few other segments of the electorate. At this rate, he’s heading for 40 percent or less of the popular vote; a humiliating defeat, in other words.
Third, Republican officeholders are abandoning him in droves. The portrait of the GOP at this point is one of chaos and abject panic. As Republicans shake loose, Clinton is poised to pick them off. She now is running a bunch of ads aimed directly at Republicans — like this one:
And finally, at some point, the bandwagon effect kicks in. Trumpkins get demoralized and stay home; Clinton supporters become more enthused. Less-political voters want to be in on the victory celebration. We have already seen in one national poll independents tip heavily her way. (“The shift toward Clinton is driven almost entirely by movement among independent voters. One week ago, Trump led Clinton 44-36 among independent voters. Those numbers have roughly flipped, with 44 percent backing Clinton now, and 33 percent supporting Trump.”)
If one believed from the onset of this campaign that Trump was seriously unbalanced, amateurish and self-destructive, his current dilemma was entirely predictable. Yes, he snookered a gullible and divided GOP into handing him the nomination, but Lincoln’s adage was never more on point: You cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Thank goodness.