Republicans decided on their presidential nominee weeks before the Democrats sorted things out, so there was a bit of a Trump Bump in the polls – he actually led by a point or two – but now that bump is gone:
A new Bloomberg poll published Tuesday shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump 49 percent to 37 percent among likely voters nationwide. It also showed that 55 percent of those polled said that they would never vote for Trump.
That’s deadly, as are the details:
“Clinton has a number of advantages in this poll, in addition to her lead,” J. Ann Selzer, the pollster who oversaw the survey, told Bloomberg. “Her supporters are more enthusiastic than Trump’s and more voters overall see her becoming a more appealing candidate than say that for Trump.”
Bloomberg also notes that Trump’s “negatives remain unusually high for a presidential candidate” and that “Clinton’s polling advantage over Trump followed a strong week for her that has included primary wins and multiple endorsements.”
It also said that it was “troubling” for Trump that 63 percent of women polled said they could never vote for him. For decades, female voters have made up a majority of the electorate.
Trump is leading Clinton among white men – 50 to 33 percent – according to the poll, but he still has work to do to catch up to the 62 percent of white men who supported Mitt Romney in 2012 exit polls.
Mitt Romney also lost with nearly two thirds of all while men voting for him. There just aren’t enough of those left out there to really matter. The new voter restrictions and ID laws in the twenty-six states where Republicans control the legislature and the governorship, that make it as hard as possible for minorities to vote, may help with that – but they’ll still vote, perhaps in greater numbers because they’re pissed off at the new rules. And it’s impossible to repeal the Nineteenth Amendment by November – changing the Constitution takes years at best – so those women who say they could never vote for Trump will be voting, for someone else. That would be the candidate who seems to be becoming more appealing, not less:
A majority of likely voters – 64 percent – said they expect that Trump will keep saying things that upset Republicans, while only 30 percent said they believe the presumptive GOP nom would tone it down.
That fellow does seem to be tearing his party apart, but Josh Marshall suggests something else is going on here:
We are told, always rightly, that we shouldn’t read too much into June polls of a November election. But there’s a significant addendum to that conventional wisdom when it comes to Donald Trump. Like a highly leveraged business that does great as long as it’s doing well but can collapse under the weight of debt if anything goes wrong, Trump is uniquely dependent on winning poll numbers.
This is true of every candidate to some extent. People almost can’t help but impute strength and wisdom to winners. Every winning campaign was run by geniuses; every losing one by idiots. More specifically, struggling campaigns get second-guessed. They often feel compelled to shift strategies (disarray!). When the new strategy doesn’t work, they’re flailing, desperate!
But almost the entirety of Trump’s campaign is based on his poll numbers, because they are a proxy for his strength and supposed ability to win in all cases.
Clinton can point to her experience and deep knowledge of the issues, but Trump can point to his sky-high poll numbers and sneer at such things, which has worked for him with certain segments of the electorate, but now he loses almost the entirety of his campaign, if Marshall is right, and he seems to be:
A lot of this is ego and narcissism – the kind of thing that was on display when he couldn’t help giving out virtual high fives to supporters after the atrocity in Orlando supposedly “proved I was right.” But it’s more than that, numerical evidence of ‘winning’ is central to the Trump cult of winning. Bad polls hurt any campaign. For Trump they’re devastating.
If you’re campaign is based on winning and bragging about winning but you’re demonstrably losing – and perhaps losing badly – you start to look ridiculous.
How will Trump handle that? Marshall suggests this:
The United States has little historical experience, certainly not in living memory, of a major party nominee who is a mentally unstable narcissist, someone who is capable of almost anything but impulse control. Trump isn’t just someone who speaks out of turn, runs an intuition-based campaign or isn’t politically correct. There’s something much, much darker about him. As happens with many would be demagogues or authoritarian rulers the prospect of real power isn’t steadying him. We’re seeing no process – either instigated by the candidate or by those around him – to bottle the magic, build some campaign structure around him to stabilize the campaign and make it more sustainable. On the contrary, as happens with demagogues and violent authoritarians, proximity to power is making him more unbridled, hotter and less restrained.
Now, there have been very unlovely presidential candidates and even presidents. Some were bellicose, others who had real demons who affected the course of their presidencies. But they were all different. In part, their personalities were different. But just as much, they were different because they were conventional politicians who had people around them to curb their worst tendencies. Part of being ‘different’ was having the self-awareness, mental stability, maturity to be responsive, at least some level, to the counsel of those around them. Trump has none of that.
That, in turn, may lead to this:
By September and October, if Trump is looking at the prospect of a shattering defeat, one that brings down much of the Republican party around him, I think it’s quite possible he manufacturers some excuse to drop out of the race to avoid that level of public humiliation. My best guess would be some argument that system is ‘rigged’ against him or the GOP hasn’t supported him enough. I’m not saying that electoral scenario is likely but I think it’s definitely possible. But if it happens, I think a Trump bailout could definitely be in the cards. Not likely. Definitely possible.
Until then, a “then” which is unlikely, the Republicans have a problem, which Greg Sargent explains here:
Donald Trump responded to the Orlando shooting with a massive display of what he likes to call “strength.” That simply has to work, right? After all, people are frightened, so they’ll gravitate towards whichever candidate more persuasively promises to smash the enemy – both without and within – while ignoring the flouting of American values embedded in the details, right? That’s Trump’s explicit bet.
But Politico reports this morning that even Republicans think that Trump’s response to the shooting is profoundly problematic. What’s important about this report, though, is that Republicans say that his response was worrisome both in terms of the substance and in terms of the politics.
Republicans tell Politico that Trump failed what is known as the “desk test,” i.e., whether his behavior inspires voters to confidently picture Trump in the Oval Office during a time of crisis. Others worry that Trump’s post-Orlando behavior raises doubts about whether he understands the president’s role.
As for problems with the substance of these matters, Politico reports this:
The proposed ban on Muslim immigrants had already been rejected by Speaker Paul Ryan and the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress. But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said again he wouldn’t support it, and that he had no interest in seeing it get a vote.
“You don’t ban somebody on race [or] religion,” McCarthy said. “I don’t see that coming to the floor.”…
Hill Republicans expressed concern over everything from the tone of Trump’s remarks to their substantive impact.
“I think you have to be a little careful with the rhetoric,” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said of Trump’s renewed call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. “You don’t want to inflame or help the recruiting efforts.”
Sargent finds this striking:
The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee wondered aloud whether the GOP standard bearer’s high profile response to a major terrorist attack might actually exacerbate terror recruitment. And the Number Two Republican in the House flatly declared the GOP standard bearer’s main policy proposal on terrorism to be an unacceptable religious test that would never make it to the House floor…
While it’s regularly assumed that terrorism helps Trump, it’s perfectly plausible that his response to this horrific event could end up raising further doubts about his temperamental and substantive fitness for the presidency. It appears that after watching Trump’s speech yesterday afternoon, even some Republicans agree with this.
Indeed, Trump’s speech presents Republicans with something of a fork-in-the-road moment… by ratcheting up the demagoguery and xenophobia, Trump revealed that he fully believes, and fully intends to continue campaigning on, precisely the things that had given Republicans grave doubts about his candidacy. If Republicans previously told themselves that Trump could be managed or moderated by getting him to stick to some kind of softer script, they have been violently disabused of that notion. Trump’s actual beliefs can no longer be ignored or wished away: In the midst of a crisis moment – the type of general election crisis moment that tends to reveal what presidential candidates are really made of – Trump explicitly confirmed his full intention to carry out a program that these Republicans profess to find deeply alarming.
And once again, this isn’t simply about the ways in which Trump represents an affront to American values. It’s also about the ways in which his specific proposals could risk further endangering national security, by the lights of the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. In other words, even some Republicans agree that Trump’s idea of a “strong” response to terrorism could further weaken us.
And this is their nominee for president? Sargent wonders how long they can keep saying he’s a fine fellow anyway:
Trump’s first high profile response to a major terrorist attack, and the Republican discomfort with it, raise new questions about how much longer this can be sustained. And one of this even begins to get into whether Republicans can countenance Trump’s insinuation that Obama somehow tacitly sides with terrorists who are trying to kill Americans. And here, too, Republicans will no longer be able to dismiss this as a temporary fancy on Trump’s part, as something that can be addressed by confining Trump to a more (dare we say it) politically correct script. That’s because a Trump spokesperson has now confirmed that this claim is becoming an official argument of the campaign.
Sargent does note that Trump’s spokesperson Katrina Pierson just said this on Fox News:
Something is going on. Even today President Obama refused to even say the words “radical Islam.” Why do we have a president who refuses to say radical Islam? We just had Americans butchered, murdered by radical Islam. This is also a president who has gone out there in public speeches and said civilization owes “a debt” to Islam. What does that mean?
It probably means that Muslim Arab scholars invented algebra (an Arabic word after all) and modern astronomy when folks in Europe were still doing the astrology thing, and were the ones who decided to treat zero as just another number, not a null value, making what we know as mathematics possible – but never mind. Sargent gets to the point:
Now that the Trump campaign is doubling down on this, it makes it more likely that Republicans will be forced to respond to it.
They know what’s coming. When Trump once again says Obama was not born in the United States, and he can prove it, and then says that Obama is a Muslim, and he can prove it, and then stops hinting and finally flat-out says that Obama is actually an ISIS agent, or their leader, and he can prove it – and then dismisses anyone who asks him to actually prove any of it – how will Republicans respond? He is their nominee.
They have a problem, and now Obama has made it far worse, because he got tired of Trump’s nonsense and finally let it rip:
An angry President Obama on Tuesday lashed out at Republicans, and particularly Donald Trump, who have called him soft on terrorism, warning that “loose talk” about Muslims has harmed the United States’ campaign against militant groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Obama challenged the demand by his critics that he characterize acts of terrorism, including the mass shooting in Orlando, as the work of “radical Islam” – a phrase the president has refused to use because he believes it unfairly implicates an entire religious group for the acts of militant extremists.
A day earlier, Trump used the phrase to question Obama’s commitment to stopping terrorist acts, including the Orlando shooting, by saying the president refuses to define the enemy.
“That’s the key, they tell us. We can’t get ISIL unless we call them ‘radical Islamists,'” Obama said, referring to the Islamic State militant group after meeting with his National Security Council at the Treasury Department to discuss the administration’s counterterrorism strategy. “What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is, none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.”
The president added: “There’s no magic to the phrase, ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.”
It was time to call them out:
Though he did not mention Trump by name, Obama lambasted his proposals to ban all Muslims from immigrating to the United States and challenged Republican leaders to reject his demagoguery.
“We are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be. We are starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we are fighting, where this can lead us,” Obama said. Trump, he said, “singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?”
He did not mention Trump by name – he only referred to him as “the presidential nominee who tweets” – but he was deadly serious:
Obama emphasized that Omar Mateen, the alleged Orlando gunman, was born in the United States, as was one of the perpetrators in the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., in December and the gunman at a mass shooting at the Fort Hood military installation in Texas in 2014.
As he has in the past, the president warned that using inflamed rhetoric about Muslims and Islam threatens to play into the motives of terrorist groups that use propaganda to portray a U.S. war against Islam and recruit new members.
“That’s not the America we want,” said Obama, who will travel to Orlando on Thursday to pay respects to the victims and their families. “It does not reflect our democratic ideals. It won’t make us more safe, it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims, making young Muslims in this country and around the world feel like, no matter what they do, they’re going to be under suspicion and under attack.”
The president added that such rhetoric “betrays the very values America stands for. We have gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear, and we came to regret it. We have seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history.”
This was a smack-down by someone who has to take this stuff seriously, and the New Yorker’s John Cassidy saw this:
Whether Obama intended to deliver such a consequential address, I’m not entirely sure. At times, he appeared to be ad-libbing. But his remarks, which were delivered from a podium in the Treasury Department, where he had met with his national-security staff, turned into perhaps the most important address he has given this year. Indeed, historians may look back on it as one of the defining speeches of his Presidency.
Obama didn’t utter Trump’s name. He didn’t need to. Instead, he began by saluting the Orlando victims and their families. He described the shooter, whom he also didn’t name, as “an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized.” By their nature, lone-wolf attacks are hard to stop, Obama pointed out, and he praised the law-enforcement and intelligence efforts that go into preventing them. But, he added, “We are all sobered by the fact that, despite the extraordinary hard work, something like Orlando can occur.”
At this stage, Obama was his usual self: calm and meticulous. Referring to some written notes, he delivered an update on the military campaign against ISIS (ISIL, in the President’s parlance), saying, “This continues to be a difficult fight, but we are making significant progress.” The group, he said, was “under more pressure than ever before,” and had lost more than a hundred and twenty of its military commanders and nearly half of the populated territory that it once held in Iraq. “And it will lose more,” he added.
Turning to the home front, Obama issued another call for “common-sense” gun-control measures, which he rightly insisted were consistent with the Second Amendment. “We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents,” he said. “People with possible ties to terrorism, who are not allowed on a plane, should not be allowed to buy a gun.” About now, the first glints of irritation, or anger, appeared in the President’s eyes. “Enough talking about being tough on terrorism,” he snapped. “Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it as easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.”
With that, Obama paused for a few seconds, as if gathering himself for what he was about to do.
He let it rip:
Obama’s tone had changed: it was harder and more than a little scornful. “Since before I was President, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism,” he said. “There’s not been a moment in my seven and a half years as President when we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label ‘radical Islam.’ Not once has an adviser of mine said, ‘Man, if we really use that phrase, we’re going to turn this whole thing around.’ Not once.”
And it wasn’t just sarcasm:
“This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion,” Obama continued. “We don’t have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that. And, if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world but we would have betrayed the very things we were trying to protect: the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties. The very things that make this country great. The very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won. And we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.”
How would Trump respond to that? That came in the evening:
“He was more angry at me than he was at the shooter, and many people said that. One of the folks on television said, ‘Boy, has Trump gotten under his skin,'” said Trump at a rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, as his supporters booed at the mention of the president. “That’s the kind of anger he should have for the shooter and these killers that shouldn’t be here.”
The businessman returned to the topic later in the rally, saying of Obama, “Boy, does he hate Donald Trump.”
Trump seems to think that means he won the argument about all of this. Obama hates him, so he must be right about everything here. Five-year-olds make better arguments than that. There’s a reason his poll numbers are dropping.
Of course Hillary Clinton tried a bit of this too:
Clinton made her own blistering assessment of Trump during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, referring to remarks that Trump had made in television interviews Monday in which he had commented on the mass shooting in Orlando.
“Yesterday morning, just one day after the massacre, he went on TV and suggested President Obama is on the side of the terrorists,” Clinton said. “Just think about that for a second. Even in a time of divided politics, this is way beyond anything that should be said by someone running for president.”
Clinton called on other Republican leaders to disavow the comments, the latest to come from Trump, that have put others in the GOP in an awkward spot.
“History will remember what we do in this moment,” Clinton said.
She called Trump’s remarks “shameful” and “disrespectful” and “yet more evidence that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be president.”
“We don’t need conspiracy theories and pathological self-congratulations,” Clinton said. “We need leadership.”
Sargent was saying that Republicans will be forced to respond to this soon. Clinton tried to make that now, and also covered that other point:
Clinton said that after she had “sifted through all the bizarre rants and outright lies” in Trump’s address at a New Hampshire college Monday, his plan boiled down to using the words “radical Islam” to define terrorists and imposing a ban on Muslims and other unspecified groups from entering the country.
“Trump, as usual, is obsessed with name-calling,” she said. “From my perspective it matters what we do, not just what we say. It didn’t matter what we called [Osama] bin Laden. It mattered that we got Bin Laden.”
What could be the appropriate devastating Republican response to that? All they had was this:
Republican leaders countered that Obama is the one undermining security.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blamed Obama’s “hasty and politically driven withdrawal from Iraq” for creating a vacuum that allowed the rise of Islamic State in the first place. He also suggested that Obama and Clinton had talked about gun regulation in the aftermath of the shooting in order to avoid discussing terrorism.
“Democrats want to talk about anything else,” he said, “because they have lost the national security debate.”
They have? That may not be what people see right now. They may see what Kevin Drum sees:
A few days ago I wrote a post semi-jokingly suggesting that the word fascist should be removed from the English language. I didn’t say it at the time, but in the back of my mind was this: people who throw around the term are often just cowards who are unwilling to come right out and call their target a Nazi. That’s understandable: Mussolini may have been a bad sort, but he didn’t send 6 million Jews to their deaths. For obvious reasons, you want to be careful comparing people to Hitler.
But we’ve now crossed that bridge with Trump. He’s not just a fascist. Nor a fan of McCarthyism. He’s not a bully or a fraud or a demagogue. He’s all those things, but he’s crossed the line into something much more. It’s not as if Trump is getting ready to set up an American version of Auschwitz or something, but his speech last night sure did sound eerily like something Hitler could have delivered circa 1933. And his statements since have been even more overtly Third Reichish, conjuring up cabals of treacherous elites who “know what’s going on” but refuse to do anything to save America from the dangers surrounding her.
Everyone should see what’s coming:
Trump may be a toy Hitler, more swagger and bombast than genuine danger. But movements like his have a dynamic all their own, and they can spiral out of control fast given the right circumstances and the right person. The right circumstances are impossible to forecast, but obviously they’re hardly out of the question sometime over the next few months. And Trump, whose first instinct is to double down when he’s criticized, is all too likely to become the right person.
Fifty-five percent of those polled said that they would never vote for Trump. They know. That number will grow – unless by September and October, if Trump is looking at the prospect of a shattering defeat, one that brings down much of the Republican party around him, he manufacturers some excuse to drop out of the race to avoid that level of public humiliation. Republicans may hope for that, but don’t count on it. They’re stuck with the guy. The rest of us, however, are not. The polling shows that.