Public-opinion polls are great parlor-game fun, like Monopoly or charades, but if you’re looking at a poll in May to determine the winner in November, you might as well consult a plate of chicken entrails. Be careful not to spill anything on the carpet.
Nevertheless, a new poll by Rasmussen Reports, which has a remarkable record of keeping an accurate finger on the nation’s pulse over the past few presidential cycles, demonstrates just how much parlor-game fun a public-opinion poll can be. Rasmussen asked a nationwide sample for whom they intend to vote in November, with an option for “staying at home on election day.” Six percent said “home” is exactly where they expect to spend the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
But when the polltakers eliminated the escape hatch, Donald Trump accomplished the unthinkable, edging Hillary Clinton by 2 points, 41 percent to 39 percent. Several campaign consultants of both Democratic and Republican persuasions fainted on learning the news, medics were called to administer to three of them and at least one was said to have spent the night in intensive care. Such numbers were not supposed to be, even in late April. Could the Donald, despised by pundits, scorned by elites and snubbed by respectable folk, really be running dead even with Hillary?
Some of the conservative elites have given up. George Will says that if Mr. Trump is nominated by the Republicans “conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation’s civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible.”
But while the elites have put “the nation’s civil life” on the grease rack, with Mr. Will busy at work under it with his grease gun, searching for the places to aim it, others of more mature bent are beginning to search for ways to get back in the game, understanding that even a late stumble, in a place like Indiana, probably wouldn’t restore control of events to the Republican establishment.
The British, who understand a lot about America but are sometimes as puzzled as everybody else by the colonies’ robust (and sometimes rustic) politics, where the body politic does not always make itself available for needed lubrication. Nearly a half-million Britons signed a petition demanding that the government bar the Donald from setting foot in the kingdom. Britons, for all that we owe them in the lessons of parliamentary democracy, have no First Amendment, and are free to say anything they please only as long as what they say does not displease the government.
Nevertheless, the government called its ambassador home to get further explanations of the Trump phenomenon and to instruct him to return to Washington to start making some connections to the Trump campaign just in case. The elites there, as here, were late figuring out that the Donald might win the nomination, and now they’re trying to get their heads around the possibility that he might actually win the big enchilada (Rasmussen says he’s polling up to 33 percent of “other minorities,” meaning Hispanics.)
“He has the biggest upside and the biggest downside of any candidate I’ve ever seen,” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker and onetime seeker of the Republican presidential nomination himself,” tells The Washington Post. “If everything comes together and clicks, he’ll be a historic figure. And if everything goes sour, we’ll think of Barry Goldwater and George McGovern as medium-level disasters.”
Mr. Gingrich dissents from the view that the Donald has no deeply held beliefs and principles, that he’s merely a television personality with a gift for making the outrageous entertaining. “These are not personality quirks,” he says. “He always counterattacks ferociously. He finds a way to define his opponent in a way that shrinks and limits them. These aren’t just barroom brawl tactics. They are to define semantically his opponents in ways they can’t get out of, Hillary being the next great experiment.”
It’s just this fear that Mr. Trump’s unpredictability makes the November result unpredictable. Dan Pfeiffer, once a senior adviser to President Obama, says that unpredictability challenges all the conventions of strategy. “Everyone who’s ever run a campaign on the Clinton side has a playbook,” he tells The Post. “They’ve never had to run against anyone like Trump. He confounded a lot of very good strategists on the Republican side and he has the potential to do that here.”
But he thinks Hillary will prevail, anyway, because “she has had a lot of experience dealing with misogynistic males.” She would owe everything to Bubba, again.