PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA —They’re freaking out.
There is an air of panic in Philadelphia, as Donald Trump, in national polls, has pulled even with, or ahead of, Hillary Clinton. You could see utter dismay on the faces of Democratic Party operatives yesterday when Bernie Sanders, rallying the troops, called for his people to support the ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, and they booed and jeered, and many of them gave the idea a literal thumbs-down. You could hear it in the tone of Elizabeth Warren’s speech, full of smears, in which Warren, who got rich and famous by pretending to be an American Indian, called Trump a racist.
The major news media spent last week attacking Trump’s claims of competence by painting the Republican convention as a mess. (Interestingly, as the WikiLeaks e-mails reveal, the “campaign is a mess” trope is one that the Democratic National Committee wanted to spread about Bernie Sanders.) Melania Trump’s “plagiarism,” roughly 23 words, apparently lifted accidentally from a Michelle Obama speech, dominated coverage of her speech. The fact that the Trump campaign allowed Ted Cruz to speak in primetime without an assurance of a Trump endorsement was presented as a historic blunder, rather than as a sign of political smarts—of magnanimity, or of allowing the NeverTrumpers to blow off steam, or of handing Cruz the rope with which he would hang himself.
Trump’s acceptance speech, we were told by the media, was dystopian, like the Mad Max movies, dark, dark, dark, dark—the word “dark” was used time and time again, almost as if the media were following Clinton campaign talking points. (That would never happen, of course. Seriously. I’m not being sarcastic. Heh.)
CNN’s on-air personalities were stunned when, in a CNN poll, people who watched the speech gave the speech a 75-percent positive rating (57 percent “very positive,” 18 “somewhat positive,” 24 percent “negative”). In that poll, 56 percent of speech-watchers said the speech made them more likely to vote for Trump, compared to 10 percent who said it made them less likely to vote for him.
Of course, people who watch a presidential nomination acceptance speech are not representative of the general electorate. But, after the speech, pollster Frank Luntz, who conducts focus groups of voters, declared: “Mark my words: This speech will put Trump even or ahead of Hillary in polls by Monday, when the Democratic convention begins.”
Luntz was right. The RealClearPolitics average of polls puts Trump up by almost a point. (Keep in mind that the RealClearPolitics average operates on a delay. The polls it averages are, at this point in the campaign, 1-8 days old.) Overall, Trump has picked up a net seven points in the past month in the RCP average.
In polls released Monday, Trump was up by a point in a CBS News poll, by four points in the Morning Consult poll, by four points in the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times tracking poll, and by five points in a CNN poll.
Prognosticator and political numbers analyst Nate Silver, who has declared at least seven times during the 2016 campaign that Trump has virtually no chance of winning, shifted gears following the GOP convention. On Monday, Silver said that, Trump would have a 57.5 percent chance of winning if the election were held that day. In Silver’s model, Trump would get 285 Electoral Votes (270 are needed), including the votes of swing states Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
“Don’t think people are really grasping how plausible it is that Trump could become president,” Silver tweeted.
Cynics note that, if Trump wins, Silver, whose credibility depends on the accuracy of his predictions, can point to this prediction and pretend those “Trump can’t win” predictions were never made. (Silver’s new prediction is one “if the election were held today”—it won’t be—and Silver still gives Hillary a 53.7 percent chance of winning in November, based only on polls, or a 58.2 percent chance based on polls and other factors. But that’s a huge shift from her previous chance, 80 percent plus.)
Many top Progressives and their media allies live in a bubble surrounded by friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives who agree with them on politics, share their ignorant views on science and economics, and hate the same groups of people. Pauline Kael, the famous movie critic, once noted, following President Nixon’s 49-state reelection victory, that “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” (Yes, it’s a real quote, though often misquoted as “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.”)
They live in a special world. Trump as a serious candidate, perhaps the next president? In Philadelphia, they just can’t believe this is happening to them.