STATE OF PLAY
With 100 Days to Go, Is Clinton or Trump the Favorite?
The conventions are over, and the grind of a national campaign is hitting full swing. It remains to be seen, however, if Clinton can do what it takes.
Here we are, 100 days out from Election Day. State of the race? Eight thoughts:
1. This weekend, more than most weekends, we don’t know the state of the race. We’re waiting to see if Hillary Clinton gets a convention bounce. And more than a convention bounce, she might get—can we coin a new phrase here?—a Khan bounce. I refer obviously to Donald Trump’s appalling comments about Ghazala Khan, the mother of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who appeared so courageously with her husband, Khizr, at the Democratic convention. Like being “Borked” or doing a “full Ginsburg,” a “Khan bounce” should henceforth refer to the uptick in the polls a candidate receives from her (or his) opponent just doing a major-league ass-hat offensive thing.
So one poll came out Saturday giving her a whopping 16-point lead, but nobody—not even Nate Silver!—knows much about the polling firm, which is new.
My guess: Clinton gets a pretty good bounce of at least five points, maybe more; then things settle in at a steady but narrow Clinton lead. It’ll be steady enough to mean something, but close enough to scare liberals shitless.
2. But all that kind of normal punditry feels thunderingly inadequate. The overwhelming reality of this race is that this country might elect a genuine fascist. No, he’s never heard of Georges Sorel or read the Futurist Manifesto. The odds are far greater that he’s never read a book in the last 50 years of life, not even the ones he “wrote.” But some people become fascists through the mind; others just have fascism in their bones. Donald Trump is the latter. Whatever else future students of journalism say about me, one thing they won’t say is that I wasn’t clear about where I stood on Trump. He must be defeated, preferably by a crushing, thoroughly conclusive margin. There’s no telling what Trump would do to our institutions of public trust. The American idea is open to radically different interpretations by, say, Bernie Sanders and Dick Cheney. But even Cheney accepts certain basic principles about representative government that date to our founding or not long thereafter. Trump accepts nothing. If he wins, the American idea is pulverized.
3. It is the urgent job of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to make Americans know that these are the stakes. That is very, very hard to do. In the moment, fascists look to most people like just another political party—a little more extreme, sure, but some of what they say makes sense, like Trump on manufacturing; and after all they’re out there competing for votes, just as parties and candidates always do, so what’s so different? Mussolini and Hitler competed for votes. Hitler campaigned like a normal person in 1932, gave speeches to respected civic clubs, pandered to the business elite, just as politicians always do. He even said, chillingly, that year: “German people, give us four years, then judge and sentence us. German people, give us four years, and I swear that as we and I entered into this office, I will then be willing to go.” All normal.
Am I saying that if Trump wins he’ll declare himself dictator? No, I doubt even Trump would do that. Crikey, in one sense he cares so little about the actual job that his people told veep recruits he’d basically let them do it. He doesn’t actually want the job. But he wants the power. He wants to win.
So, conversely, imagine that he loses narrowly, as narrowly as John Kerry lost to George Bush, or even a little closer than that. Do you think he’d just accept the result? Or would he more likely go around giving speeches about how Crooked Hillary and the blacks and the browns, all those illegal voters, stole the election from him—from “you,” as he will scream to his agitated supporters? It’s not hard at all to picture Trump not accepting the result. Or imagine that it comes down to a recount? The process we’ve watched for the last 13 months is one in which he’s done or said an outrageous thing, which then gets normalized, and then it happens again and again and again. What would Trump normalize if he loses a close election?
4. It is in one sense Hillary Clinton’s fault that we even have to contemplate these things. In the eyes of many Americans, she has her own rather serious shortcomings, and these Americans are not entirely wrong. Her decision to set up that email server infuriates me, and it does make me question her judgment. Ditto the Goldman-Sachs speech and more general pursuit of the fortune of the size that she and Bill have amassed. But the email issue is the big one. If she hadn’t done that one thing, she’d be 12 to 15 points ahead, and the Democrats would not only take back the Senate but would quite likely have enough momentum to take the House as well, pushing turnout to levels that could win purple seats. And we could have a government that worked, that built infrastructure, that provided paid family leave, that gave a crap about doing something about the rising costs of college and health care faced by middle-class people and the crisis of climate change and the other problems that Republicans don’t care about or deny exist. She could be leading the country out of that darkness if not for her decision in 2009 to try to prevent Larry Klayman from being able to get his hands on her emails, which he did anyway.
5. I think, at the end of the day, Hillary might be saved by a reverse Seven Days in May scenario. That is, enough military and national-security people might step in to say: Trump as commander in chief is utterly unimaginable; whatever you think of her, please, please, vote for her. I would think that, at the right time, Colin Powell will endorse her. Maybe Condi Rice, too. Maybe some of the other, less ideological Bush people. Robert Gates, Tom Ridge, like that.
Also former intelligence people. Remember, as of now, the candidate who asked a dictator’s government to spy on an American citizen is getting national security briefings. There’s a group called Credo that is organizing an online petition to urge intel chief James Clapper to deny Trump those briefings. Retired intel people should speak on this too. In the end, it’s these kinds of folks who will, one hopes, persuade middle Americans that they just can’t allow Trump to become president.
6. Liberals—and this is key—have to welcome this support. There’s one thing I’ve observed over the years that conservatives do far, far better than liberals. Conservatives embrace defectors from the other side with open arms, while liberals’ default position is one of suspicion and distrust. David Brock has been a liberal for nearly 20 years now, and for 10 of those has been moving heaven and earth to get Hillary in the White House, and I still know liberals who don’t quite believe he converted.
Every retired general, every Bush administration official (well, with a couple of exceptions!), every corporate CEO and business leader who endorses Clinton should be served champagne by liberals. But I know what will happen. There’ll be many who’ll merely take such support as another sign of what a sell-out she’s going to be. And the Sanders left is going to be far worse than mainstream liberals. Get over it. Support from those people means one thing only—handing Trump the powers of the presidency shoots the fear of the Lord into them. After she wins, everyone will reassume their normal battle positions. In the meantime, welcome them into the fold.
7. Clinton does need a sharper economic message. I know that that’s what she and Tim Kaine are doing this weekend in Pennsylvania and Ohio. I just read through the speech she gave Friday in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. It’s pretty good on increasing manufacturing jobs and investing in workers and such. But it seems to me the heart of the matter is that wages are rising slowly while the other costs of keeping a middle-class lifestyle—college, health care, elder care—are rising a hell of a lot faster. I suspect that that’s what people want to hear they’re going to get help on.
Last Friday’s anemic GDP number for the second quarter might augur bad economic news, and bad economic news is the last thing in the world the candidate of the incumbent party needs in the last four months before an election. We’ll get the July jobs numbers this Friday. If you want to pray for something this week, pray for 200,000.
8. The work of stopping Trump isn’t up only to Clinton and the Democrats. It’s the job of every American who sees the danger. Of course there are parts of the country that are going to be Trumpland. Not much to be done there. But everywhere else, being for Trump should be made into a posture that earns a person social ostracism. The kinds of civic and community leaders who don’t normally take political stands should say: “I don’t normally take political stands, and I am not endorsing Hillary Clinton. But Trump must not become our president, and you must not support him.” And local Republicans, at least those in purple regions, should show the courage that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have not and adopt George Will’s line—I find Clinton repugnant, but Trump is so obviously beyond the pale that we just have to let Hillary have the White House for four years and regroup and beat her in 2020; if we (i.e. Republicans) keep the House, she can’t do that much damage in four years, except for the Supreme Court, but even there, we can probably live with Merrick Garland.
We have 100 days to make sure a clear majority of Americans understands the danger here. I expect that Trump will make it all too clear himself, especially now that he’s promised to stop being “Mr. Nice Guy” and to “take the gloves off” (!). This is not a partisan mission in behalf of Hillary Clinton anymore. It’s a civic mission to save the republic.