On one side is a former president, Bill Clinton, who presided over boom economic times and who, until this campaign at least, was a broadly popular former president, and daughter Chelsea. On the other side is Trump's wife, Melania, and his five children. Many of those six have run into their own controversies on the trail, just like Donald Trump Sr.
But when asked who is the bigger asset, 46 percent chose Trump's family, while 41 percent chose Clinton's family.
Among political independents, 48 percent pick Trump's family, while 35 percent pick Clinton's. Even 17 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Clinton backers say Trump's family has been more of an asset.
Really? Bill Clinton is generally regarded by the political media as one of the most gifted politicians of the modern era, and he's certainly been out there for his wife. And yet he and his family take a (slight) back seat to the Trump family?
As noted above, many members of the Trump clan have found themselves in hot water this year. Melania Trump (who barely appeared on the trail or gave interviews this year) got into a plagiarism flap and, as we just found out, reportedly worked in the United States as a model before obtaining a work visa. Polling has shown she is comparatively unpopular for a potential first lady.
In addition, Donald Trump Jr. has committed a series of gaffes involving white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other unsavory characters. Even the relatively polished Ivanka Trump has tangled with a reporter.
As for the Clintons, the revelations about the Clinton Foundation certainly don't help. And Bill Clinton himself has seen his popularity eroded during the campaign. But with the exception of calling Obamacare the “craziest thing you've ever seen” and walking it back, he has generally avoided the kind of gaffes that marked some of his 2008 appearances for his wife. Even Trump's efforts to highlight Bill Clinton's indiscretions was generally met with a shrug; two-thirds of likely voters said in a recent Post-ABC poll that it's not a legitimate issue in this campaign.
Chelsea Clinton, meanwhile, has polled very well — even better than Michelle Obama in a 2014 CNN poll.
How to explain it? Here's a theory:
Bill Clinton's brand is almost inextricably tied to his wife. They have been side-by-side in public life for decades, and so his advocacy for her doesn't really catch your eye. We know what we're getting with 42.
But the Trump family — warts and all — is new to the American people. And they're something of a humanizing force for a GOP nominee who certainly has his personal problems and rough edges. Seeing those apparently well-adjusted and successful children who love their dad and campaign for him constantly is a counterpoint to the Democrats' picture of Trump as a reckless egomaniac with poor judgment.
It's an accepted truth of this 2016 campaign that Clinton has the superior surrogates. And that may be true overall, when you factor in the Obamas and even the very popular Bernie Sanders. But when it comes to just their families, apparently the Trumps win by a nose.