And so we officially have entered the sphincter-tightening phase of the strangest presidential campaign evah as Donald Trump, who is merely the greater of two evils in the eyes of a dismayingly large number of voters, appears to be catching up to the lesser of two evils in head-to-head national polls. That would be Hillary Clinton, who is being buffeted by another round of bad publicity over her email missteps and renewed attacks from the right-wing noise machine. All true, but this misses the biggest development of all: While The Donald would seem to have the wind at his back, he's tacking into a ferocious storm, and it's pretty much entirely of his own making.
I cavalierly predicted three weeks ago that Clinton will kick Trump's sorry ass, possibly in a landslide of historic proportions. I'm sticking to that prognostication despite stories like one in The New York Times last week that, beyond making my head want to explode, belabored the obvious in noting that Trump is running an unconventional campaign while Clinton's campaign is conventional, and asked whether it was time for her to go unconventional as Trump's footsteps presumably grow louder.
The simple answer to that is "nah."
Clinton is running exactly the kind of campaign she needs to run to shepherd the unruly Democratic flock and has corrected the one big mistake she made in 2008 when she unwisely ran a man's campaign and it almost seemed like she wanted to hide her gender behind those ubiquitous pants suits. This time, in a reflection of how far many of us have come in the eight years since an African-American was elected president, she's running a campaign as a woman -- loud and proud -- because although loong overdue, it's obvious that many of us are ready to elect a woman.
To that extent, voters have changed. Yet in other fundamental ways they have not changed, although a big difference in 2016 is that both candidates have historically high negatives, but with a huge and ultimately decisive difference: Clinton is not particularly trusted by many voters whereas Trump is feared by many voters, while the feckless media consistently overestimates the power and size of the relatively small group of predominately white males Trump has so cleverly cultivated in parlaying his celebrity and neo-fascistic demagogy to defeat a formidable field of 11 other Republicans.
How small is this group of hardcore Trump supporters? Perhaps 10 million or so out of roughly 130 million voters, and little noticed through the primary season and even as some Republicans reluctantly climb on his bandwagon now that he's clinched the nomination is that his voter base has not grown appreciably.
Many of us believe that America is on the wrong track. Just ask Bernie Sanders' army. But while Trump may have leveraged a perfect storm, as one pundit put it, in wresting the nomination from other seemingly more formidable candidates, he is so feared and so divisive that he will be driving hordes of voters -- including a goodly number of Republicans and many independents --into Clinton's smarmy embrace. There will be no vaguely comparable migration in the other direction.
Paul Krugman put it well in a Times op-ed piece earlier this week:
"So far, election commentary has been even worse than I imagined it would be. It's not just the focus on the horse race at the expense of substance; much of the horse-race coverage has been bang-your-head-on-the-desk awful, too. I know this isn't scientific, but based on conversations I've had recently, many people -- smart people, who read newspapers and try to keep track of events -- have been given a fundamentally wrong impression of the current state of play.
" . . . But the current state of the race should not be a source of dispute or confusion. Barring the equivalent of a meteor strike, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; despite the reluctance of Sanders supporters to concede that reality, she's currently ahead of Donald Trump. That's what the math says, and anyone who says it doesn't is misleading you."
Everything will become perfectly clear, or at least a whole lot clearer, after the party conventions in July.
That is when it will become obvious that the winner of the election will be determined by an electoral map that is all but guaranteed to give Clinton the 270 electoral votes she needs, and probably many more as she rides Barack Obama's coattails. And so I'm going to make another rash prediction: It is Trump who will have to change the way he is campaigning and not Clinton.
This is because Trump's seeming immunity from bad publicity and his over-the-top tweets will no longer matter as much because he will be forced to look well beyond all those angry, white male faces for votes with a campaign organization that has become an endless exercise in backbiting and moving deck chairs a la the Titanic. It is no match for Clinton's well-oiled machine. (Imagine what a Trump presidential cabinet would be like.) Meanwhile, Trump's baggage, and he has far more than Clinton, will begin to really weigh him down.
You'd better believe that along about Labor Day, the rhetoric will become a whole lot less important than the ground game. Trump's rocky honeymoon with the Republican Party will show signs of enormous strain since it was a lousy marriage to begin with. The blitz of anti-Trump ads, including those linking him to homicidal mobsters, will begin to take a toll. And Clinton and Sanders will have kissed and made up.
Figuratively, of course.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.
USED WITH PERMISSION.