Last week was pretty bad for Clinton: Not only did Hillary Clinton get trounced in Oregon and barely carry Kentucky, a state she won in 2008 by 36 points, but in signs of how bitter feelings have become among Democrats: Bernie Sanders’ supporters went berserk at the Nevada State Convention, and the Vermont senator endorsed Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s primary opponent in Florida; made demands for seats on the platform committee and a big role in deciding its leadership; and secured four permits for massive demonstrations in Philadelphia when Democrats assemble there July 25.
But Trump’s almost could not have been better: Not only did Donald Trump prevail in Oregon with 67 percent on Tuesday, but his list of 11 potential Supreme Court picks was well-received and helped highlight one of the principal differences between the parties. He aced a largely uneventful interview with Megyn Kelly by displaying a humble and restrained demeanor; he signed a joint fundraising agreement with the Republican National Committee that will go a long way toward assuring the necessary funds for the GOP’s ground game; and he named his convention manager, Paul Manafort, as his campaign chairman.
Trump also enjoyed a slew of favorable national polls. They started rolling out Wednesday with the Fox News poll showing him up over Clinton, 45 percent to 42 percent. Then this past weekend, the Washington Post/ABC survey had Trump ahead 46–44; NBC/Wall Street Journal had Clinton up 46–43; and CBS/New York Times had her leading 47–41. All four surveys showed Trump had vastly improved his position over the past month.
As the week closed, the National Rifle Association convention gave Trump a warm reception, and after sitting on the sidelines in the primaries because of his past statements, the group enthusiastically endorsed him, giving him the help of a vast army of Second Amendment backers, many of them in battleground states. The #NeverTrump movement continued to lose steam as its options dissipated, and congressional Republicans, resigned if not enthusiastic, accept the inevitable.
Still, things in politics are rarely as bad or as good as they seem. Clinton remains on track to be the Democratic nominee. She will end the primaries on June 7 with healthy leads in the popular vote and pledged delegates. Her huge advantage among the unelected superdelegates ensures a crushing first-ballot victory.
Sanders’ war chest has dwindled dramatically with news this past week that he was down to $6 million at the end of last month. And all is not happy inside his insurgent campaign: There have been some significant staff departures, and last week some left-wing pundits savaged him for staying in the race.
Though she has morphed into a terrible candidate with favorable/unfavorable numbers almost as bad as Trump, Clinton and her super PAC still sit on big war chests. She has been replenishing hers with fundraising events last week and this week. Her PAC, Priorities USA, has also opened its media attack against Trump with spots featuring his offensive comments about women, with tougher spots to come.
Trump’s not out of the woods. His good poll numbers are largely the result of two changes. The rapid consolidation of Republicans behind him following the Indiana primary now gives him as large or larger a share of Republicans as Clinton draws among Democrats. But the current parity between the candidates in drawing roughly equal shares of their party’s adherents suggests that once the Democratic battle is over, Clinton could further consolidate her party and end up with fewer defections than Trump. No Republican has been elected president when a larger share of Republicans defects than of Democrats.
In addition, Trump’s lead in the Fox News and Washington Post/ABC polls and his improvement in all four polls came from doing better with independents. They will be even more volatile and susceptible to change than normal, and they could move to Clinton as the Democratic contest draws to an end. For example, six of 10 respondents in the Washington Post/ABC survey said they want Trump to release his tax returns.
Trump has more to do to solidify his base: While he took two-thirds in Oregon, the remaining third cast their ballots for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who suspended their campaigns weeks ago. That – plus an empty campaign war chest, confusion as to which of the six groups that claim to be his super PAC really is his blessed group, and the need to blunt the attacks on him that are coming to television and computer screens in battleground states, courtesy of Priorities USA – means Trump has his hands full.
Still, the narrative won’t change until events make it change. Clinton is in the barrel and can expect more bad press this week. Trump is on top of the world and can expect to remain there until events intervene to cause a shift in coverage and/or public perception.
Look for Trump to have more good news this week with the Washington State primary, more good polls (now from battleground states), further news of his party’s consolidation and more speculation about vice presidential possibilities. Meanwhile, Clinton will suffer more bad coverage about her joyless campaign, the increasing rancor of Bernie’s Brigades and the deepening split in the Democratic Party.