With seven weeks to go until polling day, and a week before the first televised debate, Donald Trump continues to storm ahead in the polls, making up much of the ground he lost in the disastrous week following the Democratic Convention in late July. He has taken some advantage from the trio of attacks — terrorist and semi-terrorist — over the last few days, and the Democrats’ stumbling response. But even before they occurred, his numbers were returning to close range.
The 10-point leads that Hillary Clinton enjoyed in key states like Colorado and Virginia have tumbled, and she leads in those states by a mere three to four points. In the core swing states of Ohio, Florida and Iowa, the lead has changed, and Trump is now ahead by one to four points. These are aggregates of polls of course, with no regard to quality. But they’re all going in the same direction — back to Trump.
This across-the-board fall is disastrous for the Clinton campaign, because it has given away their key advantage of electoral college politics: confining the Republicans to one or two very unlikely paths to victory: either Florida-Ohio-Pennsylvania, or Florida-Ohio-Iowa-Nevada-New Hampshire-Maine 2nd district.* It only required Colorado and Virginia to be opened back up to suddenly level the playing field.
Having fallen 10 points behind by attacking the bereaved father of a fallen Muslim-American soldier and other stupidities flowing from it, Trump has regained ground by … not doing any of these things. Well, not many — invited to a black church in Flint, Michigan, he had to be interrupted halfway through a brazenly political speech from the pulpit in that ravaged city. He later claimed the whole thing was a set-up.
But that barely moves the needle on the Trumpometer these days. And it was swamped by Clinton’s collapse on 9/11, after weeks of speculation about her health, the botched announcement that she had pneumonia, her description of half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables”, done while sucking up to a fanbase LGBT audience, her limiting of appearances to being seen getting in and out of limos at the door of mansions where a fundraiser’s being held, and her seeming determination to use the Hunger Games costumed elite as a reference point for her personal styling.
Worse, the Clinton campaign has allowed Trump to get ahead of them on concrete policy announcements — the most recent being a proposal for six weeks state-funded maternity leave, for all American workers (they have none, currently). Whether that is honestly meant or could get through Congress is a question (probably, but with Democratic support at its core). But at least it’s a proposal, it’s something — and for millions of frazzled two- and three-job American workers, back on the till at the Piggly Wiggly 10 days after giving birth, it would make a real difference in their lives.
The Clinton campaign? They have offered nothing. Nothing. Nothing big, nothing small. Nothing except the chance to vote for Hillary. By this point in 2008, you knew exactly what Obama stood for — get a health plan through, put a recovery plan in place, link a green tech program to retraining and good jobs, get out of Iraq, and return to multilateral diplomacy. Since the New Hampshire primary, team Clinton has had no simple, signal proposal about what to do — they simply agreed to modified forms of Bernie Sanders proposals. When they’d won the nomination, they stopped talking about them.
The Clinton campaign against Obama in the 2008 primaries was terrible. The Clinton campaign against Trump in 2016 is terrible. Run by the now spookily-hive-minded Bill-Hillary-Chelsea trio, with a few hangers-on, and an outer circle of old pros, team Hillary are now suffering for the arrogance of the Hillarycentric campaign they designed — that the very act of voting for her would be an end in itself, a historic moment, etc.
That lazy, assumptive conception has now created a three-week vacuum at the start of the campaign proper. That, in turn, has transformed personal physical illness from a setback to a disaster. Had they had a program with simple slogans — 15 minimum (wage), insure 5 million more, a college degree for less than 10 grand — the campaign could have rolled on. Instead, Trump has rolled over it.
The middle stretch of independents have never been strongly drawn to Clinton; they gravitated to her when Trump put his instability and petulance on display. Now that he has become minimally presidential, and has concrete proposals, they are gravitating back away from her to him. Team Clinton has been shedding points day by day, due to flaws of content present in the campaign from the start, and now increasingly difficult to fix.
That there has been a great deal of sexism in the attacks on her is undeniable; that illness, appearance play differently for a woman than for a man, equally so. But they only start to really matter when there is nothing else to talk about. That situation has been the product of Team Hillary and no one else. That they (or the wider Democratic Party) ran such a brilliant convention only to succeed it with a such a hobbled campaign is indicative of something — they can put on a show, but it doesn’t have a script.
Can that be turned around? Of course. Everyone commenting on this unique campaign has been guilty of writing either side off too quickly — the juddering falls and rises more or less dictate it. Quite possibly Team Clinton has been engaged on a strategy — hold key policy proposals close, release them as the three debates roll out, and thus blindside a non-professional politician like Trump, who has no policy grasp, stored details or really the slightest clue how anything in government works. That may be the case. If it is, it’s been a hell of a risky strategy. More likely, it has been a chaotic, secretive, personalised campaign with no great vision for reform in a country that desperately needs it, and those original flaws have determined its current form. Clinton will still win it — narrowly — on current form, but you’ve got seven weeks to prepare yourself for the idea of a Trump presidency, and best to do so. I sure as hell am.
*Maine, like Nebraska, awards electoral college votes by congressional district. Maine has two. The extra two votes (each state’s electoral college vote are the number of its congressional districts plus two) go to the highest overall vote-getter in the state. Maine is reliably Democratic, but only because the populous town-based, southern 1st district heavily outweighs the northern rural/coastal second district. It’s the second, home to a lot of people in dying industries, dying towns, a world dying who are being drawn to Trump — one poll (a pretty rough one) has him leading by 10 points there. With those other states, the Maine 2nd would give Trump 270 votes exactly. Without it, in that scenario, the election would be a tie, to be decided in the House of Representatives (on a state-by-state delegation basis, i.e. 50 votes). If no candidate gets a majority by a certain date, the Senate votes between vice-presidential candidates for the job. After that, it gets very murky …