The atmosphere crackled like the approach of a late-afternoon thunderstorm with the release over the weekend of polls showing the current state of the presidential race. Which is appropriate, because so far there has been lots of menacing rumbling, if not a great deal of light.
And, like any storm on the horizon, this one might pass without leaving a trace. Still, it seems the time is right to brace ourselves.
Based on the freshest available evidence, it’s no longer implausible that Donald Trump will be astride the steps of the Capitol next January, his left hand on his personal bible — “The Art of the Deal” — and his puckered lips repeating the president’s oath of office.
We are suddenly awash in dead heats, statistical ties and swing-state tossups … even as voters express their uniform revulsion for the two major party presumptive nominees while claiming they’d love a third choice.
Sure they do. That “third choice,” so long as it remains unknown, always appeals. The lure of trading the known for the unknown is the entire premise behind the enduring success of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Then Carol Merrill pulls back the curtain to reveal … Mitt Romney … or Michael Bloomberg … and half of the aforementioned half instantly regret swapping what Jay had on his tray.
Meanwhile, among voters resigned to the choices they know, the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Trump eking out a fraction of a point lead over Hillary Clinton, a seismic turnabout from only a month ago.
Remember April? Talk then was the Democratic frontrunner might romp to a 50-state sweep. The only states Trump was putting in play were Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and Georgia — all traditionally red.
Now, if polls are correct, nose-pinching Republicans are coming home to their nominee; right-leaning independents are beginning to rally; and, with five full months to Election Day, it’s anybody’s race.
Or is it?
Keep in mind, my own record for predicting “peak Trump” is perfectly abysmal — a shortcoming that makes me quite at home within the #NeverTrump crowd, which embraces as an article of faith Trump’s inevitable implosion. Remember, we thought the Donald was toast after bloody Megyn Kelly. And loser prisoner of war John McCain. And Iowa. And Minnesota. And especially after Wisconsin.
Clearly, #NeverTrumpkins’ delusions of Trump’s self-destruction are equally boundless and frustrated, and, therefore, should be taken into account whenever one of its members — *blush* — attempts yet another prediction.
Remember, you were warned. OK.
This probably is as good as it gets for Trump. No, seriously. The wind is at his back. The road is rising to meet him. The stars are aligning. All that good stuff, even if much of it is grudging. Meanwhile, all is backbiting and chaos among Democrats.
Clinton — alternately stilted and hectoring or contrived and annoyed — continues to demonstrate what a dismal campaigner she is.
Bernie Sanders, with no path to the nomination, is even so having the time of his 74 years in the role of Hillary’s huckleberry. He means to keep up his disruptive antics right through the convention in late July.
All of that works to Trump’s advantage. Republicans coalescing, Democrats waging intramural war. Even as California Democrats prepare to cast their first meaningful primary votes since 1968, Sanders is on rancorous prowl, drawing and delighting huge crowds, scolding Clinton for dodging a debate and digging under her skin with ongoing complaints about her Wall Street ties.
Yes, it looks increasingly like it will be the summer of Trump. Unfortunately for the celebrity billionaire, no one casts votes between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Ultimately, Democrats will mend the tears in their family fabric. That’s what they do. Their spats might be epic — as you would expect from a party fraught with competing interests (union workers vs. environmentalists; consumer advocates vs. Big Finance; moderates vs. progressives) — but their overriding interest is holding power. You cannot divvy up goodies to any group unless you’re in charge.
So Clinton, loser of at least 20 primary and caucus contests, will limp to the nomination, her triumph padded by unelected “super-delegates” that give fodder to Sanders and, indeed, Trump speeches reverberating with claims that the process is rigged. But this is now.
Come September and the real campaign, nothing that went before will much matter.
Instead, as it was in late winter and early spring, the race is certain to resort to type. Whatever else we know and deplore about Hillary Clinton, we also know she is ruthlessly relentless, a quality that is certain to serve well when only Trump stands between her and the big chair in the Oval Office.
What was certain in April will be virtually certain again: The election will be Hillary Clinton’s to lose.
When she prevails, and Trump’s vainglorious distemper decimates GOP gains since 2010, all that will remain to Republicans is another soul-searching autopsy.
You know, like the one from 2012 the grassroots rejected in favor of Donald Trump. The 2016 post-mortem ought to make glorious reading.