Hillary Clinton is spending tens of millions of dollars more than Donald Trump to win the presidency. If the polls are right, more Americans think she has the kind of temperament needed in a commander-in-chief than he does. She clearly has more experience in government, since he has none. And with the help of her loyal allies in the media, she has portrayed her opponent, with some success, as anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-woman, homophobic, irresponsible, unhinged, and downright dangerous.
So why is the race, as my old CBS News colleague Dan Rather might put it, tighter than a wet bathing suit on a long ride home from the beach? Why isn’t Hillary leaving Donald in the dust? What’s going on?
Despite his many shortcomings, Donald Trump has one thing going for him. Hillary Clinton.
Long before she made the charge that half of Trump supporters belonged in a basket of deplorables, lots of voters – including more than a few Democrats – didn’t like her and didn’t trust her. And whether the coughing fit and the pneumonia represent something more serious or not, she comes off as less than electrifying on the campaign trail; sometimes as downright sluggish. How she appears matters, and may also factor into the mix of why her poll numbers have been dropping.
Presidential races are usually about the future and Hillary is the calendar girl for the past. She’s been around forever and voters figure if we elect her nothing much will change.
Trump certainly is no visionary. He’s not a thoughtful man with a wise political philosophy. Yet, in his own way, he represents the future. If voters opt for the status quo, Hillary will be the next president. If they want change, Donald Trump has a chance. Here’s a headline from the New York Times: “Appalachian voters know Trump is dangerous. But they’re desperate for change.” So are a lot of other Americans who don't live anywhere near the mountains of Appalachia.
But given the realities of the Electoral College, he’s still a long shot to win the big prize. Even if he manages to eke out a victory in Florida and Ohio, he still would have a tough time reaching the magic number of 270. When it comes to the Electoral College, the deck is stacked in favor of the Democrats.
If Trump stands a chance, he’s going to have to resist the temptation to channel Don Rickles. But that won't be easy. In just the last few days he's tweeted that former defense secretary Robert Gates is "dopey," that panelists on CNN are "mostly losers in life," that the New York Times "has become a laughingstock rag," and that Times columnist Maureen Dowd is "a neurotic dope." Most Americans are not like Trump’s most passionate supporters. They revel in the insults. Most Americans don't. Donald may want to remember that in the debate that’s coming up in a few days.
Just a few weeks ago, it looked like Hillary would win going away. It doesn’t look that way anymore.
Here are some numbers from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight poll that tracks the candidate’s chances of winning in each of the 50 states:
It’s generally believed that Trump can’t win the election unless he wins in Florida. And in that crucial state, he has a slight edge over Clinton – 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.
No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. Trump is leading there as of this writing, 55.2 to 44.7.
And in other important swing state, North Carolina, Trump is ahead 52.3 percent to 47.5 percent.
Despite all that, FiveThirtyEight puts Hillary’s chances of becoming president at 61.8 percent to Trump’s 38.2 percent.
But, and this a a very important but, this is the headline over a Nate Silver story posted on his website just a few days ago: “Election Update: Democrats Should Panic … If The Polls Still Look Like This In A Week”
It almost certainly won’t happen, but consider this: What if Trump wins the popular vote and Hillary wins the White House anyway? If you think Trump’s supporters feel alienated now, imagine their reaction if their guy loses because of an idea the Founders came up more than 200 years ago when America was a very different place than it is today.
On second thought, don’t imagine it. It’s too scary to contemplate.
So here's something else to think about: Donald Trump’s biggest asset may be that he’s running against Hillary Clinton, but Hillary has one thing going for her too. His name is Donald Trump.