Hillary Clinton has outspent Donald Trump in unprecedented fashion. Her endorsements bury Trump’s. The Obama administration is doing its best to restore her viability. The media are outdoing their 2008 liberal prejudices. And yet in John Connally delegate fashion, Clinton’s vast expenditures of $100 million plus have so far earned her only a tiny, if any, lead in most recent polls. If each point of approval is calibrated by dollars spent, Trump’s fly-by-night campaign is ahead.
Here are the 10 reasons why we think he could win it all the way:
1. Not a Typical Populist
When critics are not slurring Trump as Hitler or Mussolini, they write him off, in sloppy fashion, as a dangerous populist — at worst an hysterical, demagogic Huey Long, at best a quirky Ross Perot: in other words, a flash in the pan who capitalizes on occasional but brief surges of Neanderthal isolationism, protectionism, nativism, xenophobia, and collective insecurity among the lower middle classes. By any definition, Trump is not a classical populist. His traction derives from opposing unchecked and cynical illegal immigration, not diverse and measured legal immigration. Trump seemed incendiary in the primaries, but as he is juxtaposed to the official Clinton extremist agenda, he will likely be reinterpreted increasingly as more mainstream — a probability enhanced by his selection of Mike Pence as his running-mate.
2. Obama Nihilism
As long as Obama keeps silent and out of the limelight, he nears 50 percent in approval ratings. The moment he returns to the fray (and he always does, as a June bug to a patio light), he instinctively reverts to his natural divisive and polarizing self, as evidenced in his disastrous reactions to the Dallas police shootings, and his politically suicidal post-Dallas courting of Al Sharpton (who used to call on supporters to “off” police) and of the architects of Black Lives Matter. It is likely that Obama, to cement a hard progressive legacy in the next four months, will only double down on his gratuitous pandering, and therefore will see his poll numbers return to the low or mid-40s.
3. Two Sorts of Elitists
Both Trump and Clinton are elitists in an anti-elitist year. But elitism is not all the same. In contrast, Hillary, like Obama, talks down to Americans on how they ought to think, speak, and act. Trump seems to like them just as they are. In turn, middle-class hatred of the elite is not aimed at Trump’s garish marble floors or the narcissistic oversized gold letters plastered over the entrances to his buildings, but rather at the rarified self-righteous. Like it or not, Trump can square the ridiculous circle of a raucous billionaire as man of the people far better than Hillary can handle the contradictions of a Wall Street–created crony multimillionaires.
4. Election Formulas
It is not assured that Clinton can replicate Obama’s formula of record-high minority-voter turnout and bloc voting. More importantly, in a few key states Trump may win 25 to 28 percent of the Latino vote and perhaps 10 percent of the black vote, while Clinton might not capture even 35 percent of the so-called white vote. A surprisingly high minority of blacks and Hispanics do not feel Trump is a nativist or xenophobe. Along with prophecies of continual white irrelevance, should by their reckoning have long ago doomed Trump in the general election.
5. Crimes and Misdemeanors
Trump struggles with embarrassing misdemeanors, Clinton with high crimes. She may be delighted at not having been indicted, but FBI Director Comey confirmed to the nation that she was an inveterate liar, paranoid, conspiratorial, and incompetent. That she was not charged only made the FBI seem absurd: offering a damning hooved, horned, pitchforked, and forked-tailed portrait of someone mysteriously not a denizen of Hell. Add in the Clinton Foundation syndicate and the fact that lies are lies and often do not fade so easily.
6. The thought of four more Obama years
Trump could benefit, given that Hillary is a perceived tool of Obama. So four years of Hillary are perceived as four more years of Obama, which nobody likes. Not even Obama (not convinced about this but ehh…) so advantage Trump.
Trump seems extremist in speech, but as the campaign wears on, Hillary may confirm that she is more extremist in fact. It may well be that voters would prefer a brash-talking pragmatist to sober and judicious ideologues. Sloppy talk about temporarily limiting immigration from the Middle East is not so injurious as contrived efforts never to utter the phrase “radical Islam.” Clinton, Obama, and Sanders have moved the Democratic party radically to the left; Trump in some areas has pushed the Republican party to the center. The voter terrified of ISIS, record debt, the spiraling cost of his health care, perceived U.S. decline, and the seemingly violent racial Balkanization of the country — but not terrified of gay marriage or tough trade talks with China — may find Clinton, not Trump, the true radical.
If the polls are off a bit in this warped election year, they are more likely to err on Hillary’s side. Republicans who will vote for Hillary or no one rather than Trump will do so in part out of perceived moral principles, and thus they will not be so shy in showcasing their not-in-my-name ethos. But those who see themselves more as pragmatists, who will eventually hold their nose and vote for the embarrassing Trump, are more likely, in Brexit style, to keep quiet about it and stay under the polling radar. I think that to be truly ahead on Election Day Hillary will have to top Trump by 1 or 2 points in the polls — even with traditional Democratic massaging of voter rolls.
9. Converts and Apostates
The relative closeness of polling in key swing states already suggests that the Reagan Democrats and other Trump converts may either be more numerous than the Never Trump establishment or at least more numerous outside of coastal, and electorally irrelevant, blue states like California and New York — and thus more significant as swing-state adjudicators. In addition, traditional media, in which Never Trump views are most frequently aired, are themselves growing ossified and do not reach voters to the same degree as outlets like the Drudge Report, Breitbart News, and talk radio.
10. The Screech-Owl Factor
For all his lack of discipline, the media-seasoned Trump is still the better and more robust campaigner. His liabilities — bouts of outer-space incoherence, unfamiliarity with basic issues, sloppiness in diction, a personal cruel streak — are balanced by a TV host’s sense of audience, timing, and cadence. Hillary is the far more disciplined politico, but she is not so much uncharismatic as downright off-putting. Heartfelt recklessness can sometimes wear better than packaged sobriety.