Hillary’s Bad September Could Be Very Good For Her

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The greatest threat to her was soft turnout. Now Trump’s proximity in the polls could light a fire under wavering Clinton supporters.

 You can choose one or more of the explanations for what has happened to Hillary Clinton in recent weeks as Donald Trump has closed in on her in the polls. The “fundamentals” of this year—economic and political data—have pointed to a close race for more than a year; Trump has (until his recent birther nonsense) offered a more temperate version of himself; Clinton has been haunted by her emails and her health; Republican holdouts have been returning to the fold, another sign that the electorate will vote more and more along lines of party preference.

But what is especially bedeviling the Clinton campaign is that, at least until now, constituencies most critical to her campaign seem to have no sense of urgency about keeping the Donald Trump out of the White House. While Hispanics, who backed Obama in 2012 by a more than 2-1 margin, support Clinton by a similar margin, they seem far less inclined to vote than they did four years ago.

That is what could change now that Trump threatens to actually take the White House.

Younger voters, who not only backed Obama by landslide margins but turned out in record percentages in 2012, have until now expressed relative indifference to the campaign or have turned to the alternatives: Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. If last week’s Quinnipiac poll is right, the race among 18-to-34-year-olds looks like a four-way split: She wins only 31 percent to Trump’s 26 percent. In fact, Johnson runs second, with 29 percent; Stein, running in low single digits nationally, pulls in 15 percent of 18-to-34 year olds. And remember: without massive support and a heavy turnout among younger voters, Obama’s margins in Florida and other key states would have been wiped out.

Yes, support for minor party candidates tend to fall when the leaves do; yes, the Clinton campaign has a get-out-the-vote machine whose reputation—yet untested—is formidable.

But what may be their most powerful weapon is the clear possibility that Trump could win, which is why Clinton’s very bad few weeks could, in the end, be very good for her. Trump’s climbing numbers could finally motivate her complacent Democratic base and other voters who have never been crazy about her and not especially motivated to come out to the polls, especially if she were running away with the race.

Here is where Hillary Clinton might think about channeling the arguments of two historical figures you might not normally think of in the same paragraph: Oliver Cromwell and John McEnroe. Back in 1650, the first (and last) non-royal ruler of Britain tried to dissuade the Scots from declaring Charles II as king. Saying, in a famous appeal: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, consider it possible that you may be mistaken.” Three hundred and eighty one years later, in the midst of another British field of battle—Wimbledon—John McEnroe saw one of his serves ruled a fault and screamed incredulously: “You cannot be serious!”

Somewhere between Cromwell and McEnroe lies the Clinton campaign’s most plausible argument to its wavering voters: Get real, folks.

“You’re looking at Johnson and Stein as a way of rejecting a corrupt, unresponsive two-party system,” England’s Lord Protector might say to millennials, sounding a lot like Bernie Sanders, “because there’s no difference between the two parties. But please be willing to consider that you might be mistaken. Look back 16 years, and see what a similar vote—for Ralph Nader—did. His 94,000 voters in Florida would have wound up giving Gore a net of about 20,000 votes—more than enough to make butterfly ballots and hanging chads irrelevant. Now, between launching the Iraq War and the two Supreme Court justices Bush appointed, did it really make no difference?”

McEnroe—looking and sounding remarkably like Elizabeth Warren, who’s now out there stumping for Hillary—might then chime in: “You cannot be serious if you think you have the luxury of a ‘protest’ vote for Johnson or Stein. If you vote as a Libertarian for Johnson, you will materially increase the chances of a Trump presidency. Look at the list of potential judges. On everything from gay rights to abortion to his own views of the First Amendment, Trump is on record as rejecting core libertarian principles. If you vote for Jill Stein as a progressive, you are helping to put in power a president whose tax plan makes the rich richer, who thinks climate chance is a hoax, who wants to abolish whole swaths of environmental protection laws. So voting for Johnson or Stein means you’re voting for a label—a ’libertarian,’ or a ‘progressive’—without realizing that the consequence of that vote could lead to a president who rejects everything you claim to hold dear.”

There’s no guarantee that any of these arguments will work. They come, after all, at the end of a 15-month-long Trump campaign that was guaranteed to collapse at countless moments (I’d list them, but anyone following this campaign has likely committed them to memory). And it still requires, as its ultimate point, an insistence that these voters summon themselves to vote for a candidate for whom they have little or no enthusiasm. Obama’s supporters turned out in significant numbers because they were hungry and saw in his presidency a feast; the voters Clinton must summon are being told “eat your peas because you have to.” That’s an emotional detachment that a dozen speeches heavy on policy, like the one she delivered Monday, won’t repair. Of course, it’s possible that Trump’s own character and temperament, revealed on the debate stage or in his bizarre-world campaign appearances, will convince voters that in the end , he is a risk they are not prepared to take.

But for voters unsure about Clinton, relying on Trump to self-destruct after what he has survived is a risk they cannot take. So, even though the Scottish Presbyterians rejected Cromwell’s plea, and even though the officials at Wimbledon did not change their call, their pleas still suggest that Trump’s rise in the polls could be a powerful argument for Clinton.

 

Jeff Greenfield is a five-time Emmy-winning network television analyst and author.

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