I do think that there is something special about Donald Trump. Actually: lots of things. He’s clearly a psychopath — in a strict sense of the word. He’s also fairly dimwitted. It’s clear he’s unable to concentrate and thus incredibly ignorant. He’s the perfect presidential candidate for the Twitter age. But in terms of the politics, there’s nothing unusual about Donald Trump. He’s just like any other Republican in any presidential race.
We see this most clearly in the polling. What we are seeing is exactly what we saw with Mitt Romney in 2012. You may remember that he was losing badly to Barack Obama up to the first presidential debate. In that debate, he did well. True, he lied throughout and contradicted everything that he had been saying throughout the campaign. But in terms of political theater, he did great. And his polling numbers went way up. And all the pundits talked about how the debate had helped him and given him momentum.
Presidential Race Won’t Be Affected
Now, after Trump’s disastrous first debate, we are hearing that Trump’s momentum has stalled. It’s the same error they made with Mitt Romney. In 2012, the debate didn’t give Romney momentum. It just gave people who were always going to vote for him a reason to stop saying they were undecided and start saying they were going to vote for him.
What we’ve seen with Trump is that his numbers have have steadily improved over the last two months. This has not been because more and more people have been won over to him. It is just an indication that Republicans would vote for a groundhog if it had an “R” after its name. So these people have gradually gotten comfortable saying that they will vote for Trump. But they always were going to vote for Trump.
Clinton’s Numbers Haven’t Changed
Look at the Real Clear Politics average. Since the end of June, Hillary Clinton’s polling numbers have been quite solid. Yes, they’ve fluctuated. That’s because there are people who will definitely vote for her who get embarrassed when the meida start talking about her email server. But there’s no trend.
On the other side, Trump’s numbers have steadily increased for the same period of time. (The exception of that is his temporary peak from the RNC.) So people are wrong to think that things would be different if John Kasich or Ted Cruz had been the nominee. They wouldn’t have seen the long, slow increase in polling numbers; they would had numbers like Hillary’s: pretty steady.
John Kasich Wouldn’t Change a Thing
But in both cases, it would be the same: Hillary Clinton would be about 2 percentage points above Kashich, Cruz, or (as is the case) Trump. And I can’t blame the Republican voters. I think they are wrong, but in terms of what they care about, any Republican would be better than any Democrat. I believe the opposite.
What I have a problem with is this idea that there is a kind of grand narrative of the presidential race. There isn’t. There is just a Democrat running against a Republican. And that’s all there is.
There Are Differences
Now that’s not to say that there aren’t things that will affect this presidential race. Trump’s explicit racism has the down side of scaring away conservatives who don’t want to be seen as racist. And this has been what Trump’s whole “minority outreach” campaign has been about: making them feel comfortable with him. And this is certainly going to cause Gary Johnson to do better than he normally would.
But the really big issue is that if John Kashich or Ted Cruz had won the nomination, they would have normal ground operations. They might not be as good as Hillary Clinton’s. But they would have had them. Trump seems to have next to nothing. And I suspect this will have a big effect that we are not seeing in the polls.
But when you hear pundits claim that this presidential race would be very different if the Republicans had nominated someone other than Donald Trump, don’t believe it. This presidential race will end up the same regardless of which nutjob the Republicans had nominated.