I have good news and I have bad news.
First, the bad news: The lead Hillary Clinton’s enjoyed in national polls for most of August has been cut roughly in half.
The good news: Much of the #NeverTrump citizenry is paranoid again after a misguided spell of lapsed vigilance and even complacency after the conventions.
This political cockroach has defied extermination once again and professionals don’t have a clue what poison to try next. Nothing sticks to Donald Trump; everything sticks to Clinton.
That may seem like an odd assertion given that Trump is the least popular general election candidate from a major party since the invention of polling. But there is an optical illusion at work here.
Everything we thought we knew about elections says Trump never should have gotten the nomination in the first place and he certainly shouldn’t be a contender at Labor Day. Trump’s offenses, scandals, gaffes, admissions, outrages and disapproval ratings are on a whole different scale of magnitude from all prior nominees. This shouldn’t be a race – period. But it is.
In a recent column in The New York Times, liberal Paul Krugman says Trump is “being graded on a curve.” “If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he’s being presidential,” Krugman writes. His “multiple scandals … get remarkably little attention.” Yet there is a “presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt.”
The problem is bigger than that. Every voter knows that Trump isn’t a normal candidate. He’s a rogue, a stage act, a clown – whatever. Trump’s transgressions are enormous and blatant and no one pretends otherwise – not even his fans. Because of that, new information, new disclosures, new outages bounce right off him.
Think of it like a high school. Trump is and always has been the oafish bully, the mean lummox and occasional class clown who can’t sink any lower; no one cares when he swears in class or pours Gatorade on the kid at the next desk because that’s what is expected. Clinton is the straight “A” student, the Girl Scout, the goodie-goodie; when she gets a “B+” or is caught chewing gum, the other kids delight in her fall and demand she be punished to the limit of the law.
Sometimes the lummox gets elected class president.
Since 1993, a real “vast rightwing conspiracy” has been able to turn’s Clinton’s missteps – some slight, some substantial and some totally made up – into faux scandals and cases for the grand inquisitor. At their worst, Clinton’s misdeeds pale in comparison to Trump’s lifelong record of ethical atrocities updated daily. But Republicans have used congressional hearings, Fox News and right-wing talk radio to hound and harm Clinton. Trump has some of the architects of the vast rightwing conspiracy working on his campaign, slime merchants such as Roger Ailes, David Bossie, Steve Bannon and Roger Stone.
What the country desperately needs right now is a vast leftwing conspiracy to Hillarize the Donald.
The country needs some propaganda program that can pierce Trump’s armor of idiocy and thuggery and persuade the undecideds, the abstainers and the third-party flirters to turn away from Trump.
Normally, this would be the job of the press and the opposition party. But nothing happens normally this year.
The press is in an impossible situation. Imagine being assigned to provide impartial, fair and even-handed coverage of Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein. Absurd, right? Well, that is essentially what the “straight” political press corps is trying to do. On one hand, journalists have done a fine job uncovering a huge record of dirt on Trump, and his slurs, racist rants, lies and flip-flops are covered from every angle. But the normal vocabulary and forms of journalism don’t affect Trump as they do mere mortal politicians. Nothing wounds him. And “straight” reporters aren’t allowed to break form and simply call a rat a rat.
But virtually the entire American commentariat has loudly and repeatedly called the rat a rat – the top conservative magazines, newspaper editorial pages and columnists, many rightwing radio talkers and the entire liberal and establishment pundit corps. It hasn’t cut through.
As for the Democrats, they threw their best punches at the convention and almost knocked Trump out. It also appears that the attack ads they are running in swing states are effective. Trump might be on the ropes, but he’s still in the ring and swinging wildly. Hillary Clinton lacks the public trust to throw a knockout punch.
Who or what can throw a knockout punch? Can a vast leftwing conspiracy come up with something to make the country safe from Trumpocracy?
No one foresaw the darkness Trump has brought to the campaign and country. Let’s hope that a new source of light we can’t now see shines through in the final weeks of the campaign.