Clinton in control as Trump bump flattens out

The numbers are in Clinton's favour, but she needs to face the investigations into her conduct head on

Image: Hillary for America

Two weeks ago we found movement in the weekly tracking polls for Trump that soon became an official ‘Trump bump.’ The race closed from an eight to ten point Clinton lead to something smaller, somewhere in the two to four point range.

The tracks this week suggest that this Trumpian surge has ended, however, with no track showing gains for Trump in the past week. And one, the GOP pollster Rasmussen, found a significant shift towards Clinton. The Huffington Post rolling average has Clinton up 4.3 points today.

This is bad news for Trump since Clinton is likely to get a bump of two to four points when she clinches the nomination next week. This would put her ahead by six to eight points, a formidable lead in a Presidential race.

So while Trump has made the race far closer in recent weeks, his gains were not sufficient to fundamentally change the nature of the race, or to suggest he is truly competitive at this point. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the 2016 playing field leans towards the Democrats.

To review the top lines:

  •  President Obama hit a second term high in job approval last week, coming in at 53 approve/43 disapprove in the Gallup daily track. This suggests that there are very practical political limits to the ‘discontent’ much discussed this cycle.
  • In the Huffington Post aggregate, the Democratic Party holds a huge advantage in favourability, coming in at 46/46 approval while the GOP is 29/60, a net negative of an astonishing 31 points (Trump is only 20 points net negative this week). Both Trump and Clinton, as unpopular as they are, are far more popular than Reince Priebus’s GOP as a whole.
  • The Democrats have a very powerful and popular set of surrogates they can unleash in the fall – the Obamas, Sanders, the Bidens – to support Secretary Clinton and her VP. The contrast between a popular set of Democrats barnstorming the country, together, touting the success of two consecutive Democratic Administrations, versus the isolated and angry Trump advocating for an agenda of national decline will become a powerful and material development this fall.
  • The economy continues to perform well, and there is even a growing body of evidence that after more than a decade of stagnation or decline, wages have begun to rise.
  • An unusual electoral map this year means that the Senate and House results will be disproportionately influenced by the outcome of the contested Presidential states. Clinton could have unusually long and powerful coattails this year.
  • Democrats are least a generation ahead in campaign organization and technology, and are far ahead in developing their brass tacks campaign this cycle.

So, in what is an important development in the race, Trump’s momentum has slowed, and the race appears to be settling down as many analysts expected, with Clinton holding a small but consequential lead.

Opportunities and challenges for the Clinton campaign

For the Democrats, one gets the sense the election will be won or lost between now and the Convention.

It is shaping up to be an extraordinary next eight weeks – the wrapping up of the nomination battle, the coming together of the party, the picking of the VP, managing a successful Convention and the running of the gauntlet of the various investigations going on into Clinton’s time as Secretary of State.

These next eight weeks may be the most important of Hillary Clinton’s career, representing an enormous test of leadership for the experienced and talented candidate.

If Clinton can leave Philadelphia with these eight weeks having been successful, she should be in very strong shape for the fall election. She will have been heavily tested, and triumphed, offering the public a window into how she would indeed handle similar challenges in the White House.

While our Presidential races are long and grueling, they are perhaps appropriate in scale and difficulty to the job itself, the hardest in the world today. It is through this grueling process and the tests it provides that one can be transformed from candidate to President.

The State Department’s Inspector General’s report

The investigations going on into Secretary Clinton are serious, and require a far more direct response from the candidate and her campaign than we have seen to date. Given the timing of the various investigations and court cases, it is likely that total exoneration of the secretary prior to the November election is not on the table.

Questions and doubts will linger, and be a material part of the fall conversation. There are many things the Clinton camp can do to begin to address these concerns head on:

  • Commit to establishing an independent commission to recommend far better management of US government records in this new digital age of governing
  • Join Bernie Sanders in a true partnership to improve our politics though an aggressive effort throughout her Presidency to reform our electoral system
  • Make structural changes in the day to day ways of Washington and modernise the Democratic Party itself
  • Suspend fundraising for the Clinton Foundation
  • Forgo speaking fees for all Clinton family members during her Presidency

The list goes on. Whatever the comprehensive response is, it needs to be far more aggressive than what we’ve seen so far.

To me one antidote to all this toxicity in our system today would be for Clinton to not just position herself as one who can make this unwieldy system in Washington work better for everyday people, but to authentically commit, as one who has seen the ugliness of our system up close, to leave behind a far better and more representative politics for coming generations of Americans.

She has the opportunity in the coming months, with Sanders’s help and guidance, to move these issues from the margins of her candidacy to its core.

She would the nation, and her candidacy, a lot of good along the way.

Simon Rosenberg is the founder of the think tank NDN/NPI. In the run up to the US election Left Foot Forward is reposting his weekly analysis of the campaign trail as a UK exclusive. You can find previous columns here

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