The atmosphere of the presidential race has changed, with ardent Democrats conscious of a tightening race. Despite Donald Trump’s negative qualities, he has doggedly chipped away at Hillary Clinton’s lead. Recent polls, whether from Reuters or CBS, show Clinton’s lead in the battleground states vanishing or perilously thin. John Zogby, writing in Forbes, has the two candidates in a dead heat for the lead, with Jill Stein and Gary Johnson siphoning off enough support to deny either of the other two an advantage. The particulars don’t matter as much as this general point: it’s getting more difficult to dismiss Trump and more necessary to admit he could end up in the Oval Office.
It might be unthinkable; but impossible, no.
Over the weekend, John Podhoretz published a column in the New York Post, excoriating Democrats for their misguided belief in Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. He blames the establishment for failing to vet or challenge her sufficiently. Even Bernie Sanders’ astonishingly strong showing against her in the primaries failed to awaken party loyalists to the stubborn limits of her appeal. Some Democrats remain baffled as to why the electorate has not swung toward a candidate they regard as likeable and decent. It’s painful to admit she offers too little in the way of the backbone and implacability the nation wants.
Meanwhile, Trump, formerly intent on misbehaving himself into oblivion, has subtly shifted his strategy, putting more time into dignified niche appearances (like Monday’s at the Economics Club of New York, which some business channels aired in its entirety) and less into vociferous and controversial rallies. Fearful of throwing away his shot, Trump has stepped up his game. He wants to win and senses he can.
Oddly, he suddenly chose to lay to rest the birther controversy, admitting last week (after years of claiming otherwise) that Barack Obama was born in the US rather than elsewhere abroad. Why bother? Because admitting the truth—that President Obama is an American—is going to help Trump with African-Americans more generally. An LA Times poll registers increasing support for Trump among that constituency, prompting the president to warn African-Americans that he will view it as a ‘personal insult’ if they don’t turn out for Clinton. Meanwhile, Trump’s simple message to urban blacks—that years of the Democratic rule have failed to deliver the safety, employment, and access to decent schools that they deserve—is resonating.
Niall Ferguson, “The Fight Isn’t Going Clinton’s Way” (Boston Globe)