When last you and I checked in on the most accept-any-substitute presidential election in many a year, one of us — me, I’m sure — was grousing that it was a tough time to be a Republican, even in a red state like Texas.
That was just before the GOP’s national convention in Cleveland, and on the agenda was a lot of food-fighting and Donald Trump’s coronation. Related but not exactly the same.
Thanks to Ted Cruz, our senator, and Trump himself, that’s about what we got. And the days since the convention, through the Democrats’ stab at unity in Philadelphia and beyond, it has been, shall we say, less than uplifting for America’s once-conservative party.
Trump and his people — and those regular Republicans falling in line — have a point when they argue that it sounds worse than it has been when filtered through a left-leaning American media. And, in truth, it’s hard to remember a day when the bias was so overt.
Example: Check your local newspaper for that “Trump visits flood-plagued Louisiana” headline and evocative photograph. Keep looking. No, really, it must be there. No? Like it never happened?
Now check the same newspaper for “President never too busy to comfort the afflicted,” or somesuch, when Barack Obama, refreshed from a full vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, made a swing through Baton Rouge a full four days after Trump (but infinity days before Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton).
Who cares, right? Just a photo-op among people who have better things to do than entertain a presidential candidate or even a president. Except we do remember candidate Obama walking arm in arm with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Or candidate Obama’s full-throated criticism of President George W. Bush for flying over, but not setting foot, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“One of the benefits of being five months short of leaving here is I don’t worry too much about politics,” Obama said in Baton Rouge. True enough, although it does leave open to interpretation any past disaster photo-ops.
So give that one to Trump, as much as you might hate it. Here’s one to take back: The typical nonsense from a losing candidate that the polls, well, are just wrong. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
I won’t go too far on a limb defending polls and pollsters, but over time, they provide some kind of measuring stick for elections local or national. Still, the two great losing-candidate clichés are:
“The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.”
And, “I’d feel better about your poll if you were speaking to the right voters, as in the ones who prefer me.”
Not every poll is right on the mark, and methodologies vary, but it’s worth barely a chuckle to hear a Trump surrogate like lawyer Michael Cohen demand to know which polls a CNN interviewer was citing to show his man behind.
“All of them,” Brianna Keilar said.
She wasn’t exaggerating. Trump, whose entire primary campaign seemed built on touting his poll standing and saying whatever popped into his head, hasn’t led Clinton in a single national poll for more than a month. His last was a 5-point lead in a CNN/ORC poll taken July 22–24, when his GOP convention bounce was at full Super Ball height.
Since then, it’s approaching 30 in a row with Clinton ahead, and that’s with Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein tossed in; the head-to-heads with Clinton are generally worse for Trump. So argue it anyway you want, but Trump is losing.
Which is not to say he has lost. If you’re old like me, you can remember when Labor Day was the “traditional start of the presidential campaign season,” which was probably never 100 percent accurate but still a good way to keep our timeline straight.
Typically, the candidate ahead in polling on Labor Day wins, in part because coming from behind means grabbing an increasingly large share of fewer and fewer undecided voters. It may work in theory, but reality is different. In Trump’s case, a refurbished campaign team and a more focused effort is a stylistic improvement, but the substance still isn’t there.
Now, a Trump supporter could argue that national polls ask the wrong question, that the national popular vote counts for nothing, as President Al Gore constantly reminded us.
No, what matters are state-by-state polls, the ones we can extrapolate into who might win actual Electoral College votes. Except here, too, the polling math favors Clinton — and more decisively. No wonder her strategy is to avoid questions, remind that she’s not Trump and run out the clock to November.
In battleground or swing states that Trump really, really needs, he trails Clinton in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Virginia, among others. Trump’s claims to rewrite the red-blue map may be valid only in the way he didn’t expect. He and his people can argue that those polls are wrong, too, but all of them?
The one I’ll dismiss for now is the latest from Texas, which shows Trump with a mere 6-point lead. Sure, a scattering of Republicans will refuse to fill in the box next to Trump’s name, but I seriously doubt it could be enough to cost him our 38 electoral votes, given Clinton’s lack of, um, popularity in our state.
And if Texas really is that close, Trump has far bigger problems than polls he might not like.
Mike Hashimoto is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.