It’s Labor Day weekend, and the polls have tightened in the last week. Donald Trump has done nothing to earn this, of course. His schizophrenic jaunt from Mexico to Arizona—I love the Mexican people! I love them so much I’m creating a police force to send them home to Mexico!—was a mess.
That great Mother Jones expose on how foreign-born girls working for the Trump modeling agency worked in the United States illegally—for a man who wants to throw the illegals out—was jaw-dropping. It would have finished him off, in a rational world.
And yet he’s closer than he’s been for months. Why?
Because Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than she’s been in a long time—or ever, if you believe the spin on the the new Washington Post/ABC poll. In that one, she’s 15 points underwater. Other recent polls have been both better and worse—she’s minus-17 in YouGov/Economist but only minus-8 in Fox. But the picture is pretty consistent overall, and it’s bleak.
Her unfavorable numbers over the course of the last several months tell an interesting and mostly overlooked tale. The conventional wisdom is that her numbers went south after the Times broke the story in March 2015 of the email server, and they’ve been lower-hemispheric ever since. That’s true—but there are variations within that are worth examining.
Through the summer of 2015, she was barely underwater—three to five points. By December and January it was marginally worse, six or seven in most polls. But she didn’t hit double digits until March and April, and then she really bottomed out around minus-20 in late May and early June.
What was happening? Well, she and Bernie Sanders were going at it pretty good, which surely reduced some liberals’ opinions of her. But mostly she was getting buffeted about on the winds of scandal—the Benghazi committee was leaking a steady trail of morsels, and in late May the State Department inspector general came out with its report saying she hadn’t gotten White House approval for using the private server.
In other words, there looks to be a link between fresh Clinton scandal stories in the newspapers and her approval numbers dropping from a still-lamentable-but-manageable minus-8 or 10 to a (gulp!) minus-15 or 17. And in the last two weeks, of course, as we’ve seen a new batch of such articles, her negatives have inched back up, and the head-to-head polls have tightened.
What does this tell you to look forward to? You don’t need the political acumen of Lyndon Johnson to figure this out. It means the Republicans, and Judicial Watch, the source of most of these scandal stories, are going to do everything they can to keep them on the front pages between now and Election Day. Oh—with assists from Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin.
That’s the only environment in which Trump has a remote chance of winning—if it “seems” like the Clintons are “up to their old tricks”; if there are stories out there that, while including “no smoking gun,” nevertheless “feed” the “perception” that the Clintons are corrupt.
The media are showing every sign of falling for each and every breathless Judicial Watch press release that lands in their inboxes without the least bit of skepticism and scrutiny. I discussed the weaknesses of that big AP story in my previous column. There’ve been other lame stories recently, too. The Crown Prince of Bahrain one was another preposterous Clinton Rules piece. He made his donation to the Clinton Global Initiative—which wasn’t really a donation per se but seed money for a program for Bahraini students to study in America—long before Clinton became secretary of state—so he’d have to have been clairvoyant to know he was going to be corrupting a future secretary four and five years later.
Matthew Yglesias cited a few of the whoppers in a strong piece that noted the curious difference in coverage received by the Clinton Foundation and one run by Colin Powell. America’s Promise was headed by Alma Powell while Colin was secretary of state in the early 2000s and, according to Yglesias, got money from disgraced Enron CEO Ken Lay while the State Department was helping Enron resolve a dispute in India.
Why the difference in coverage? Yes, I know a lot of people would say because Colin Powell is clean and the Clintons are corrupt. I say the answer is more likely that Colin Powell didn’t have a Judicial Watch poking and prodding into every aspect of his life trying to make him look dirty and send him to jail. He also didn’t face an industry of “book” authors willing to print the most fantastical lies about him, lies gobbled up by hundreds of thousands of readers. Go look at the Times nonfiction best-seller list. Sit down first.
That insane scrutiny means two things. One, the media really ought to try to be careful about just swallowing whatever connections and insinuations Judicial Watch and other right-wing Clinton haters trumpet for the next nine weeks. It’s a rather high-stakes time. If there’s a legit Clinton story, obviously, run with it. But if people find themselves writing sentences with phrases like “nevertheless fuels the perception that the Clintons or their associates may have…” they might want to stop and think about whether what they have on their hands is news or innuendo.
But two—yes, the scrutiny places responsibility on the Clintons, too. It may not be fair that they and they alone have a Judicial Watch on their tail. But fair or not, it’s a fact. And they should behave accordingly. And they should know that the right is going to try to keep the words “Clinton” and “scandal” next to each other on the front pages for the next nine weeks, and they should do everything in their power to keep those words out of the papers. Announcing that they’ve rethought matters and Chelsea won’t remain on the foundation board would be a good start.
I’ve written it before: This narrative is the only way she can lose. Don’t feed it. Smother it.