If the U.S. elections were held next week, there is a reasonable chance that Donald Trump would be elected President. On the assumption that current trends hold, Trump could theoretically win the popular vote as well as the 270 Electoral College votes that he needs to win the White House. And if a serious analyst had written the previous two sentences up until a month ago, he would have been dispatched forthwith for a psychiatric evaluation.
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Even though the full fallout from Monday night’s debate at Hofstra University in Long Island won’t be known for days, and notwithstanding the fact that many people continue to maintain that, barring an unforeseen cataclysm, the elections are still Clinton’s to lose, there is no doubt that in recent days Trump has passed a feasibility threshold. His path to the Presidency may not be paved yet, but it is already marked on the map nonetheless. What was an inconceivable notion a few short weeks ago is now a possibility that is being measured in fractions of percentage points. Prognosticator Nate Silver now gives the GOP’s reality star, whose knowledge of the material is minimal, whose past is littered with habitual shadiness and who may not be completely capable of telling true from false, a 48.5% chance of becoming the next U.S. President and leader of the free world.
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In many ways, it’s a prophecy that fulfills itself. The better that Trump does in tolls, the more his bitterest rivals, such as Ted Cruz, are compelled to line up behind him, the more his reluctant benefactors, such as Sheldon Adelson, are moved to open their pockets and the more his despondent Republican supporters can summon the enthusiasm to work on his behalf. At the same time, Trump’s ascent deflates the self-confidence of Clinton supporters, sows panic and discontent in the Democratic Party, sparks new doubts about Clinton’s performance and could soon move some Democratic candidates for the Senate and the House of Representative to start keeping their distance, as many of them did - to their lasting regret - in the 2012 elections.
The turnabout has occurred within the past month. It’s two main catalyzers were Clinton’s stumble and near collapse at the September 11 ceremony, which cast her as an obsessive concealer of the truth; and the reorganization of Trump’s campaign staff, which has found a way to balance between his outrageous assertions and characterizations, which haven’t stopped, and his disciplined speeches from the teleprompter, which have increased in frequency and expanded in scope. Last week it seemed as if Clinton was in critical but stable condition, but within days it because clear that her situation continued to deteriorate. If nothing changes soon, her own campaign staff may be in line for electric jolts of its own.
Although the national averages continue to give Clinton a slight lead, her position in battleground states, which seemed unassailable a few short weeks ago, is going from so-so to scary. Within the past month alone, Clinton has blown 12-point leads in Pennsylvania and Colorado. Last month she led Ohio by five, now she trails by 2-3; she led Iowa by 2-3, now she trails by 6. She seemed to be in firm command of Florida, now he seems to be ensconced at the helm. What was once described as her battleground firewall appears to have been breached many times over.
Clinton’s fall in battleground states also has two main components, which may not be connected to each other but are certainly complimentary. In many of these states, especially the many Rust Belt states with struggling economies, there is a disproportionately large number of whites with no college education: according to the latest Washington Post poll, they are flocking to Trump, by an unbelievably whopping 59 points, 76-17. At the same time, Clinton continues to suffer from the perception that she is untrustworthy: 46 per cent of Americans trust Trump, God help America, compared to only 35 per cent who trust Clinton. This image has hurt her most of all with Millenials, who used to support Clinton by a margin of 30-40 per cent and now give her only a 10-12 per cent advantage.
So what is preventing Democrats from hitting the panic button already, beyond their blind faith that a Trump victory is unthinkable and therefore won’t happen? There are several reasons. First, notwithstanding the ups and downs in the polls, for most of the election campaign, save solitary days, Clinton has held the lead. Trump, even if he does overtake Clinton, rarely gets more than 46%, which may be his ceiling. Much of the considerable support given to Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s could start to evaporate as Election Day approaches, especially after the two were barred from participating in the televised debates. And in a tight race, the candidate who invested and prepared his election day apparatus usually wins, and, as far as we know, in this case it’s Clinton.
Many Clinton supporters console themselves with the thought that Trump reflects a national mood of discontent and protest, but many of those who express their displeasure to pollsters will think twice before appointing him Commander in Chief and holder of the nuclear keys. And even though the polls have detected a significant reduction in the enthusiasm of minorities for Clinton, Democrats are confident that they will wake up before Election Day and realize that there is too much at stake to stay home.
Finally, Trump may have peaked too soon, or, to use Ehud Barak’s favorite metaphor, his cherries may have blossomed too early. Many observers continue to believe that Trump is a walking time bomb that is bound to explode in his own face. And let’s not forget that there are 40 days left until the elections, a virtual eternity in the day and age of saturation TV coverage and 24/7 social media. After all, 40 days ago no one could have imagined that at the end of September we’d be contemplating the possibility that Trump might actually win.