Writing at Salon, Anis Shivani predicted last week that Donald Trump’s campaign “will surely be victorious in the end,” because he appeals “to an elemental fear in the country, torn apart by the abstraction of the market, to which Clinton has not the faintest hope of responding.” Trump, you see, “’builds’ things, literal buildings.” People can actually visualize these buildings and the cities they were built in. This contrasts with Clinton, according to Shivani, since her work with the Clinton Foundation and the State Department “represents…disembodiedness.” “In this election,” claims Shivani, “abstraction will clearly lose and corporeality…will undoubtedly win.”
Another Salon writer, Musa al-Gharbi, doesn’t actually predict a Trump win, but he does seem to think the Donald has a path to victory. He lays out three key reasons to think this: because Trump has more “opportunity to radically change public perception for the better” since voters don’t yet know Trump “as a politician,” because this election will turn on what voters think about both Obama and Bill Clinton, and because of something he calls “negative intersectionality.” Al-Gharbi doesn’t define this very clearly, but he seems to be saying something about political correctness: that Trump’s bigotry and misogyny, “heard in the context of a fundamentally anti-white, anti-Christian culture war,” could actually make some voters see him more sympathetically.
These aren’t the only two writers working to outline a Trump path to the Oval Office. These arguments mostly focus on three claims: both candidates have poor favorability ratings, Hillary Clinton is a bad candidate, and minority voters could shift to Trump. I challenge them below the fold.
Yes, right now both Trump and Clinton poll poorly. But Clinton’s numbers will come up as she consolidates Democrats, just as Trump’s rose after he became the presumptive nominee. More importantly, Clinton should improve these numbers significantly as the campaign proceeds and she has a chance to show her competence, resilience, and policy chops. Polls taken right after the Benghazi hearing in October 2015 showed a bump after she pretty much manhandled the Committee. We can expect similar preparation and skill during debates with Trump. Anyone think his attack on her as an enabler of Bill’s peccadillos will work delivered in person? Bet most women don’t, even conservatives. And remember that her favorability ratings were much higher during her State Department days, when America saw her as effectively managing American foreign policy.
Much of this discussion of favorability ratings depends on the assumption that people think the country is going in the wrong direction. Polls seem to show this, but remember that both conservatives and liberals could respond “wrong track” to this question for different reasons, and every voter can think of something they don’t like (gay marriage, NAFTA, Wall Street, taxes). The fact that Obama’s poll ratings have recently gone up says something: In the main, Americans would like to see his policy direction continue. In any event, it’s difficult to think of which GOP voters abandoned Romney for Obama but will switch back to voting R for Trump.
No, HRC is not the best retail campaigner. But she has an impressive political machine that she and other Democrats have constructed over at least eight years. She has dozens of professional political consultants on her staff with decades of experience with polling, messaging, data analytics, GOTV, and fundraising. Bernie’s ability to give her a run for the nomination does not disprove the effectiveness of this organization – though he challenged it, she responded well. And the Democratic Party’s nomination process makes her race against Sanders look much closer than it really is. She has so far won 56.6% of the vote, and with almost 13 million primary votes she has a million-and-a-half more votes than Trump had on the GOP side.
Trump on the other hand has no political operation to speak of, recently fired the only pro on the staff, and has only one communications/messaging expert working for the campaign. He plans to count on the RNC, which so far hasn’t been coming through – and it’s not clear why it would want to spend Committee money on a billionaire’s campaign rather than protect the House and Senate. And as bad as HRC might be on the stump, Trump is worse. He actually attacked a popular governor in his own party – a member of an ethnic group he has alienated and needs to mend fences with – simply because she refused to endorse him at a rally in her state. To make it worse, he did this on a day when he should have allowed pundits to drone on and on about bad news for his opponent. We can expect more of this.
Finally, it’s difficult to see how Trump attracts minority voters after promising to bar Muslims for religious reasons, deport millions of Hispanics – the friends and families of Latino voters – and accepting the support of white supremacists. Donald Trump appeals to a very specific constituency: white males who no longer have a strong place in the US economy and have been criticized for blaming immigrants and minorities for their troubles. How he pivots toward engaging with minorities without alienating this base is not clear.
To be sure, the GOP has done yeoman’s work suppressing the votes of those who belong to the Democratic coalition. They have made voting more difficult on purpose and using specific rules that impact minority and young voters more than they do middle-aged whites. This is why I don’t mind these stories – it’s vital that Democrats, neoliberals, progressives, and anyone who cares about real social justice turn out in big numbers to vote. It’s no time for complacency, given that the right wing will show up at the polls in force. But in the end I strongly believe that demographics, the electoral map, and the direction the US moving politically make a Trump win all but impossible. #TrumpWillNeverBePresident.