With the conventions behind us, Wolves and Sheep will be taking a break for summer vacation during what is usually the slowest period of the presidential campaign. Over the past few days we have started to get a sense of where the race stands after the Cleveland and Philadelphia marathons. Initial polling suggested Donald Trump had received a modest bounce from his convention, but subsequent data indicates Trump’s standing did not improve much and may have even deteriorated a bit after Cleveland. This is why it’s always risky to draw long-term conclusions from isolated or early data points.
With this in mind, we will need more time to get a full picture of Hillary Clinton’s convention bounce, although we already have enough information to know it will be larger than Trump’s and potentially quite sizable. Whether it endures remains to be seen, but at this point we can say with certainty that she will start the fall campaign in the lead. Clinton has held an aggregate polling advantage, albeit at times razor thin, from the beginning. The contest continues to exhibit a very stable structure with an inelastic electorate providing little room for movement.
Less stable is the behavior of the Republican nominee. Trump’s tirades against the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who challenged Trump’s fitness to be president during an emotional appearance at the Democratic convention, have became a touchstone in the campaign. Since Thursday, Trump’s angry and pointed attacks on Khizr Khan have provoked bipartisan condemnation of the candidate’s lack of compassion and judgment, giving cover to those now wondering aloud if he is mentally ill. The Khan incident has cut through the noise and is now bearing down on the Republican Party like a Category 3 hurricane, peeling off roof shingles in the form of scattered long-time Republicans announcing their intention to vote against their party’s nominee. The most noteworthy of these, Rep. Richard Hanna of upstate New York, announced today that he will be voting for Hillary Clinton.
But Hanna is retiring. Republicans who hope to preserve a political future face greater consequences and for the most part have been unwilling to run away as the barometric pressure falls, a position which will only become less tenable as the campaign progresses. Today President Obama took the extreme step of calling Trump unfit to serve as president and urged Republican leaders to revoke their endorsements of his candidacy. This campaign still has more than three months to go, a long time for the party to have to withstand the sustained effects of Hurricane Donald. For months I have contended that the best longterm move for Republican leaders is to concede the election, repudiate their nominee, and avoid being lashed to him for the rest of their political lives. Now we’re starting to see why.
The Kahn episode will contribute to Hillary’s buoyancy in post-convention polling and will complicate efforts to get a clear sense of how much her improved condition can be attributed to the DNC. It may also help make her higher poll numbers stick. Normally, you would expect the race to calm down at this point and remain fairly static through the rest of the summer once the polls stop bouncing and as the Olympics and Labor Day divert attention from politics. Of course, “normal” is not a word we have used much to describe this cycle. The next few weeks should be a quiet phase of the campaign, but nothing—not even the Olympics—is capable of quieting Donald Trump.
Upon our return we will introduce our baseline electoral map and turn our attention to the Electoral College configurations which will determine the outcome of the presidential race. Enjoy the summer and I’ll see you in mid-August.